Local cancer survivor stresses bowel screening saves lives - take a test

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“The screening process is a minor, slightly distasteful inconvenience, but it could save your life. The reason my treatment was successful was because my tumour was caught early.”

This was the message from a Western Isles man who beat bowel cancer - the third most common cancer in Scotland - when it was discovered at an early stage.

Tom Rankin, a retired headmaster from South Uist, is now putting his weight behind the NHS Western Isles campaign to highlight that the early detection of cancer saves lives.

Tom learned about his condition in May 2009 at the age of 62. He explained: “I was called for a colonoscopy to review the status of diverticulosis* diagnosed two years earlier. In the course of a colonoscopy, suspicious polyps were found and biopsies taken. The approach by medical and nursing staff at Gartnavel and the Beatson was so positive and arrangements for my treatment were made so promptly and efficiently that I had every confidence that my treatment would be successful. I knew it would be protracted and difficult but I was confident of its success.”

In Tom’s case, treatment involved a six-week course of chemo-radiation therapy at the Beatson Cancer Centre and surgery to remove the tumour. This was followed by an irreversible colostomy, with closure of the rectum, necessary as a result of the location of the tumour.

“I received tremendous personal support, mainly from my wife and family, but also from friends,” said Tom. “I also received outstanding professional support from my local GP, community nursing staff, the Macmillan Nurse and the stoma nurses and tissue viability nurse at the Western Isles Hospital.”

Tom pointed out that there had been no history of bowel cancer in his family, and the only symptoms he had experienced were the normal symptoms of diverticulosis. He had not been aware of the ‘bowel screening test’ when he was diagnosed. Thankfully, however, Tom was diagnosed early and, whilst recovery from the treatment was a long, slow process, his health is now good.

“In the beginning I was very unwell and it took some three years in total to regain anything like normality,” Tom explained. “I still have a stoma and discomfort from surgical wounds and the after effects of radiotherapy, but I can lead a fairly normal life. I received six-monthly checks by the surgeon and oncologist until April 2013, when I was discharged from further follow up.”

Despite not having taken the bowel screening test himself, Tom’s message to others is clear; ‘you have to take part...the reason my treatment was successful was because my tumour was caught early’.

Bowel screening kits are sent to people in Scotland between the ages of 50 and 74, and those over the age of 74 can also now request a screening kit every two years. Screening for bowel cancer is vital as bowel cancer is a ‘hidden’ cancer, and the early signs are often not visible. Nine out of 10 people will survive bowel cancer if it is detected early.

NHS Western Isles Medical Director Dr James Ward said: “Here in Scotland, every year the equivalent of four people a day die from bowel cancer. This screening programme is very simple, but very effective. It saves lives by detecting problems early and spotting symptoms that people may not know they have.

“Lots of information is provided with the kit when it arrives through the letterbox and the programme also has a great deal of information which people can access whenever it is convenient for them at www.bowelscreening.scot.nhs.uk.