A Bedford Hospital patient is urging the public not to ignore the NHS bowel cancer screening home test kit after being rushed into an emergency operation to remove a large cancerous tumour from his bowel.
The faecal immunochemical test (FIT) kit is an NHS bowel cancer screening home test kit to help prevent bowel cancer or find it at an early stage, when it’s easier to treat. It is sent every two years to individuals aged 60 to 74.
Stephen Sweetlove MBE had received several routine screening FIT kits in the post, but was too embarrassed to take a stool sample.
He said: “I am certain if I had taken the samples and posted them back, the bowel cancer would have been found at an early stage and treated straight away without any complications.
“I started to get symptoms of bowel cancer, but they seemed like things that I could explain away. I didn’t go to my GP because I didn’t want to burden the NHS during the coronavirus pandemic.”
In April 2022, Mr Sweetlove felt unwell and hadn’t been to the toilet for several days, so he booked an appointment with his GP. He was prescribed medication and told if it got worse to call 111.
He continued: “I took the medication and all it did was make me vomit. This was the first time I realised I was ill. I had sudden strong pains in my stomach area, I was bloated and being sick.
“I rang 111 and they instructed me to go to A&E. 11 hours later I was in theatre having a lifesaving operation and I woke up in intensive care, lucky to still be alive.
“After the operation I underwent eight months of chemotherapy and now, 14 months later, I am about to have another operation to reverse my stoma.
“I cannot tell you how grateful I am to my surgeon Mr Rajaratnam for saving my life and a big thank you to all the doctors, nurses and staff who saw me through the two weeks I had in hospital, and those who helped through the chemotherapy treatment.”
Mr Sweetlove is now raising awareness of the FIT kit and encouraging people to send off their stool sample.
He said: “Don’t be embarrassed to take samples of your poo, don’t be embarrassed to send your poo through the post and don’t be embarrassed to talk to your doctor. The sooner you act, the sooner you can be treated and the more chance you have of a complete recovery.”
Mr Paul Tisi, Medical Director for Bedfordshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, added: “Bowel cancer is the fourth most common type of cancer, so it’s vital those eligible send back their tests. Most people won’t require further tests, but if you do, finding bowel cancer early can make it more treatable with better outcomes.”
For more information on bowel cancer screening, visit www.nhs.uk/conditions/bowel-cancer-screening/