Lynn's personal battle to raise awareness of early signs of disease

Nineteen years ago, life could not have been better for Lynn Faulds Wood.

She was married to her Watchdog co-presenter John Stapleton with a three-year- old son and a successful career. Then out of the blue, she was diagnosed with advanced bowel cancer.

"I had never even heard of the disease," says the 62-year-old.

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"My symptoms had been very subtle, just a little rectal bleeding which came and went. My GP, to his credit, gave me a PR (rectal digital examination) but concluded it was 'nothing to worry about at your age, probably piles'. Luckily after five months, I decided to see another GP and ask for a referral to a specialist. Because no one was worried about my subtle symptoms, I wasn't fast tracked and it was many months before I discovered the shocking truth – I had cancer."

Back then, Lynn says, most people who developed bowel cancer died and, on paper, she had a 34 per cent chance of survival.

But survive she did, thanks in large part, to her surgeon.

"Unfortunately, although things have improved, it is still a lot down to the luck of where you live," says Lynn who has been campaigning to raise awareness of bowel cancer ever since she got the five year all-clear.

"I realised quite quickly that this was a preventable cancer but people just didn't seem aware of the changes they could make to their lifestyles to reduce the risk and also the symptoms to look out for."

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Lynn believes that the rate of survival from bowel cancer could be increased significantly if GPs detected the signs and patients were referred as early as possible. This is why she has joined forces with the PCSG – the Primary Care Society For Gastroenterology – which reaches thousands of GPs with a special interest in gastroenterology and is working with the society to help to educate and inform GPs.

Lynn will be speaking at the PCSG annual conference in Harrogate tomorrow.

GPs from all over the country will be meeting in the town to share best practice and hear about the latest developments in the diagnosis and treatment of bowel cancer.

Dr Daniel Hurwitz, a GP at the Fountain Medical Centre, Morley in Leeds and a member of the Primary Care Society of Gastroenterology, says it important for doctors to take the symptoms of bowel cancer seriously.

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"The aim of the PCSG is to promote awareness among our colleagues of the types of symptoms they should be looking out for and giving them the education they need to provide a better quality service," says Dr Hurwitz.

He said in the 25 years that he had been a GP there had been a change in the way symptoms, such as prolonged rectal bleeding are treated.

"We are much more aware of the importance of this as a symptom and that's because bowel cancer has been recognised as having a high mortality rate.

"But we also know that with early diagnosis we can radically improve the outcome and reduce the mortality rates."

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This week, Health Secretary Andrew Lansley announced plans to introduce a new screening programme for bowel cancer.

The five-minute safe short colonoscopy called a flexi-scope is to be offered to 55-64 year olds – 60m will be put in to the programme over the next four years

Flexi-scope is the best way to diagnose bowel cancer faster, finding cancers earlier and removing pre-cancerous growths called polyps.

"We're delighted with the news because we have funded research which

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shows that flexi-scope is also the best way to diagnose symptoms like change of bowel habit and rectal bleeding yet many hospitals don't have flexi-scope clinics," says Lynn who founded Lynn's Bowel Cancer Campaign.

"We've been calling for more nurses trained in flexi-scope and I have opened many hospital endoscopy units to help speed up diagnosis."

She is also urging people in that category who are sent a home testing kit to make sure they take the test.

"It could save your life," says Lynn.


If you are aged 50 plus, any new persistent bowel symptoms are more likely to be serious

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Recent change of bowel habit with bleeding from the bottom (going more often to the loo or trying to go without much happening or looser stools)

Bleeding from the bottom with no reason – no straining, piles, pain – can come and go

Any rectal bleeding if you are aged over 50

Anaemia found in men and women after the menopause

Lump in the stomach felt by doctor

Most people with these symptoms will not have cancer but should see their GP if they persist for four weeks

For details of the Harrogate conference visit