Bowel Cancer: How to move forward after medical negligence | Bolt Burdon Kemp Bowel Cancer: How to move forward after medical negligence | Bolt Burdon Kemp

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Bowel Cancer: How to move forward after medical negligence

Bowel cancer is the fourth biggest cancer in the UK. A study by Public Health England’s National Cancer Intelligence Network[1] confirms that the earlier it is caught, the higher a patient’s chance of survival. It also shows a direct link between early diagnosis and bowel cancer screening.

Bowel cancer screening

To try and detect bowel cancer sooner, the NHS currently offers two types of bowel cancer screening to adults registered with a GP in the UK.

  1. Faecal occult blood (FOB) test – this test is for adults aged between 60 and 74. It can be done by patients ‘at home’ and works by detecting whether there is any blood in your stool, which may not be visible to the eye. Its accuracy depends on whether the cancer is bleeding at the time the test is taken.
  2. Bowel scope screening – this is a one off test that is being introduced for adults who are aged 55 and over. It involves using an instrument to look inside the lower part of the bowel and remove any growths that could become cancerous.

The aim of screening is to catch bowel cancer at an early stage. This is hugely important as an earlier diagnosis can make treatment and survival much easier.

Cancer is categorised into four stages, depending on how aggressive and advanced it is.

Stage one is the least severe, and it often means that there are more treatment options available and there is not as much of a risk to life expectancy.

The higher the stage, the more advanced the cancer is. Stage four is the most severe form of bowel cancer and means that the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.

Why is screening important?

Figures released by Cancer Research UK and Public Health England’s National Cancer Intelligence Network[2] show that bowel cancer is more likely to be diagnosed early by routine screening[3].

For the first time, the data has been broken down to assess the routes by which bowel cancer is diagnosed and at what stage the cancer detected. The routes to bowel cancer diagnosis are:

  • national screening;
  • GP referral (emergency and routine);
  • emergency; or
  • hospital/inpatient

The data shows that 37% of patients who are diagnosed with national screening programmes have stage one cancer. It also shows that only 8% of diagnoses made this way are for patients with stage four cancer. These figures contrast with patients diagnosed by way of an emergency, where stage 4 makes up 32% of the diagnoses.

This data confirms that people who diagnosed by way of an emergency, such as admission to A&E&, are more likely to have more advanced cancer. It also confirms that screening programmes are the best route of detecting bowel cancer early. Dr Anne Mackie, Director of Screening at Public Health England, states: “This new research on the stage at which people are diagnosed suggests that screening has an important part to play in achieving earlier diagnosis of bowel cancer”[4]

Public Health England has announced that ‘emergency presentation data’ and ‘stage at diagnosis data’ will be given to those in charge of dealing with health care funding. This will help healthcare commissioners to understand where improvements can be made and help them to target their resources.

With this confirmed, the next thing that needs to be tackles is the low uptake of bowel cancer screening.

The benefits of FIT

The FIT (fecal immunochemical test) is a new ‘at home’ screening test that looks for hidden blood in stools. There are no risks associated with the test and it has been designed so that it is easy to use. It has been found to be more accurate with less false positive results.

Sara Hiom, Cancer Research UK’s director of early diagnosis, said:

“We know this is an easier test for people to use at home and that both men and women are more likely to use it, so it’s vital this is rolled out as quickly as possible across England. It’s also important that people go to their doctor if they notice symptoms such as blood in their poo or a change in their normal bowel habit such as looser poo, pooing more often or constipation, even if they’ve recently had a bowel screening test.”[5]

The UK National Screening Committee has recommended the introduction of the FIT home screening in England on 15 January 2016. The committee recommended that “replacing the current Faecal Occult Blood (FOB) test with FIT provides the opportunity to detect and prevent more cancers and is easier to use”[6].

It is hoped that the introduction of this new screening test will lead to more early diagnoses of bowel cancer.

Late diagnosis and medical negligence

We have considered how screening can lead to an early diagnosis of bowel cancer and the huge importance this can have for a patient’s treatment and survival. Unfortunately, an early diagnosis is not possible for every patient. This may be due to a range of reasons, including medical mistakes.

Where a patient has suffered a delay in their diagnosis because of a medical error, this can cause catastrophic injuries. Medical errors can increase the chance of bowel cancer advancing and spreading to other parts of the body. It also limits the number treatment options available, which makes beating the cancer even harder. The most common circumstances where poor medical care could have caused bowel cancer to become more advanced include:

  • A doctor failing to follow-up or investigate symptoms of bowel cancer, perhaps dismissing these as something else
  • A test result being wrongly interpreted or not reported correctly, leading to a diagnosis being missed
  • A failure to provide timely and appropriate treatment, allowing the cancer to worsen

It is important that anyone in this position is aware of their legal rights about bringing a claim for compensation. Any patient who has suffered an injury due to unacceptable medical treatment will be able to pursue a legal claim for compensation. The purpose of a claim will be financial compensation – to try to put you back in the position you would have been in if you had not suffered negligence.

At Bolt Burdon Kemp, we understand that it is difficult enough to have bowel cancer, but to then suffer medical negligence is devastating. A legal claim will investigate your treatment thoroughly and provide you with answers as to what has happened and why. Compensation will help to provide you with the treatment you need, and help to recover any financial losses you may have incurred – such as loss of earnings.

If we can help you, our solicitors will work with you and a team of medical and legal experts to obtain the best outcome we can for you – so you can focus on your health and recovery.



[3] There are also figures available for other types of cancer.

[4] ‘Screening gets top marks for picking up bowel cancer early’, Cancer Research UK

[5] ‘Screening gets top marks for picking up bowel cancer early’, Cancer Research UK

[6]UK NSC recommendations include new bowel cancer screening test, Public Health England, 15 January 2016

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