Bowel cancer symptom searches rise by 1,000% following Deborah James’ death

Dame Deborah James, who died in 2022 (ITV/Shutterstock)

More people are coming forward to check the symptoms of bowel cancer on the NHS website following the death of Dame Deborah James, the health service has said.

According to the NHS, more than 23,000 people visited its webpages for bowel cancer on Wednesday, up from 2,000 the day before.

James died on Tuesday 28 June, aged 40, six years after being diagnosed with stage 4 bowel cancer in 2016.

Following her diagnosis, James devoted much of her life to raising awareness of the disease.

She also launched a Bowelbabe Fund to raise money for Cancer Research UK in May, when she announced that she had moved to hospice-at-home care because her body had stopped responding to treatment.

In a statement announcing her death, James’ family shared her final parting message to the world: “Find a life worth enjoying; take risks; love deeply; have no regrets; and always, always have rebellious hope. And finally, check your poo - it could just save your life.”

The NHS has also urged the public to not to be “prudish about poo”, warning that people are often reluctant to talk about symptoms due to embarrassment.

Symptoms of bowel cancer include changes in bowels habits, such as pooing more often than usual or a different consistency; pain in the tummy or abdominal pain, which persists for more than a few days; unexpected weight loss and unexplained fatigue.

NHS chief executive Amanda Pritchard commented: “Dame Deborah James is an inspiration to us all. Her death this week has touched the nation.

“People often don’t feel comfortable speaking about their cancer diagnosis and treatment but Deborah bravely speaking out about her personal journey has prompted thousands more people to check the symptoms. There is no doubt about it – this has been life-saving.

“We must now continue Deborah’s fantastic work in her honour.

“Talking about cancer saves lives. So, our message to you is – don’t be prudish about poo, get checked out if you have worrying signs or symptoms.”

Bowel cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the UK, with nearly 43,000 people diagnosed every year.

It is the second most common cause of cancer deaths in the UK after lung cancer, taking around 16,500 lives annually.

A recent survey by Bowel Cancer UK found that almost half of UK adults cannot name a single symptom of the illness.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid commented: “Dame Deborah James has left an incredible legacy and changed the national conversation around cancer. These figures reflect the powerful and lifesaving impact she has had - inspiring countless people across the country to get informed, get checked and speak up.

“Having lost my father to bowel cancer, I know how devastating this disease can be, and we must continue to break down barriers around what she called the ‘C word’ – encouraging people to have open and honest discussions.

“Our upcoming 10-Year Cancer Plan will build on this with a focus on early diagnosis to help save more lives.”

Bowel cancer is England’s fourth most common cancer, with around 37,000 new cases in England each year.