Bowel cancer kills more than 44 people each day and is the second most deadly type of cancer.
One in 14 men and one in 19 women will be diagnosed with bowel cancer in their life time but early diagnosis dramatically increases the chances of survival.
This month Bowel Cancer UK is aiming to raise awareness of the disease and encourage people to get tested.
Each person aged 60 to 74 and registered with a GP will receive a free screening test in the post every two years, however statistics show people could be missing out on a potentially life saving early diagnosis by not posting the test back.
According to figures released by Public Health England in 2015/16 only 43 per cent of people living in Lewisham, who receive screening test in the post, actually complete it.
Lewisham resident Linda Killick, 71, was diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2010 after taking part in the bowel cancer screening programme.
Linda, who was diagnosed with cancer at 64 years old, said: “By doing the tests when I did, I was saved from the need to have chemo or radiotherapy, and, possibly, my life was saved.
“I want other people to have the same chance that I did. Please take the screening kit when you are offered it, it may save your life and the lives of future generations.
“Another reason for taking the test that people need to know is that some bowel cancers seem to have an inherited component – your children and grandchildren need to know if they have an increased possibility of developing bowel cancer.”
The test involves collecting three poo samples over a two-week period and sending it back in the provided freepost kit.
It looks for hidden blood in your poo, which could be an early sign of bowel cancer.
WHAT ARE THE EARLY SIGNS OF BOWEL CANCER?
- Bleeding from your bottom and/or blood in your poo
- A change in bowel habit lasting three weeks or more
- Unexplained weight loss
- Extreme tiredness for no obvious reason
- A pain or lump in your tummy
Other areas of south London have a similarly low uptake of the postal tests.
Only 48 per cent of people living in the area covered by Merton Clinical Commissioning Group complete the test when they receive it in the post.
Helen Watson, 80, from Southfields, has been given the all clear from cancer after her diagnosis seven years ago.
Helen said: “I received the screening test as a result of the age range for the test being extended in January of 2011 to 74 years old.
“I had to do it three times as the results were inconsistent.
“I received a letter with an appointment to go to St George's Hospital, Tooting, for a colonoscopy. After sleeping for a while I was taken to a private room where I was told by a specialist cancer nurse I did have bowel cancer.
“The process which would follow was carefully explained and I remember during the next 10 days or so I got to know the layout of St George's rather well.
"Following blood tests, scans, X-rays and ultra sounds I was then referred for surgery.
“Just six weeks after receiving the letter calling me for a colonoscopy screening I had the surgery. I was discharged four days later. A week later I had an appointment to see my surgeon who explained histology had found cancer in one lymph node so recommended a course of chemotherapy."
Helen Watson was diagnosed after doing a home test.
“I reacted very badly to the first type of chemo I had so I was taken off that and treated with an alternative. After the six months treatment I was declared cancer free, and I still have regular scans and see my surgeon and oncologist every six months.
"After five years post chemo I have been discharged from seeing the oncologist.
“My surgeon tells me I will continue to have annual checks and probably a colonoscopy every three to five years.”
Deborah Alsina, chief executive of Bowel Cancer UK, added: “Nearly everyone diagnosed at the earliest stage will survive, however this drops significantly as the disease develops.
"If you are over 60, take the test when you receive it in the post. If you are younger, tell the people over 60 in your life to complete it.”