By Claire West

The first ever Government cancer awareness campaign to highlight the early signs and symptoms of bowel cancer is launched today, by Health Minister Paul Burstow.

The ‘Be Clear on Cancer’ campaign will initially be piloted in two regions and if successful will be rolled out across the country.

Improving cancer outcomes is a Government priority and the earlier cancer is diagnosed, the better the outlook. Featuring real GPs encouraging patients to talk to them about changes in their poo, the new adverts aim to make people aware of the early signs of bowel cancer and make it easier for them to discuss this with their GP.

Adverts will appear on TV, radio and in newspapers in the East of England and South West for seven weeks from today (Monday 31 January).

More than 90 per cent of people diagnosed with bowel cancer at the early stage survive for at least five years compared with only 6.6 per cent of those diagnosed at the late stage. Ten thousand lives, across all cancers, could be saved each year if England matched the best cancer survival rates in Europe.

Health Minister Paul Burstow said:

“No one likes talking about their poo — it’s embarrassing. But if we see something different and tell our GP it could save our life.

“Early diagnosis makes a huge difference to cancer survival rates and bowel cancer is one of the biggest killers. That’s why the ‘Be Clear on Cancer’ campaign uses simple messages to make people aware of the early signs of bowel cancer and to give them the confidence to talk to their GP about them.

“To make sure we get it right, we’re testing this campaign in two regions and, if it works, we’ll roll it out nationally.

"We want to concentrate on what is most important to patients and their families – cancer outcomes. Alongside the Cancer Drugs Fund and the actions outlined in Improving Outcomes - A Strategy for Cancer which is backed by £750 million over four years, this will help achieve that."

Sarah Lyness, Cancer Research UK’s executive director of communications and information, said:

“We welcome this campaign because spotting cancer early saves lives. Most changes in bowel habits probably won’t be cancer but if they are it is much better to be diagnosed and treated as quickly as possible.

“So if people notice a change that lasts three weeks or more - whether it’s looser poo, bleeding or anything else that is unusual for them - they should report the symptoms to their doctor without further delay.”

Mark Flannagan, Chief Executive of Beating Bowel Cancer, said:

"The launch of this bowel cancer symptoms awareness campaign is a major step forward in tackling the issue of late diagnosis. By increasing awareness of the disease and encouraging people to act on their symptoms, this campaign has the potential to save thousands of lives."

Deborah Alsina, Chief Executive, Bowel Cancer UK.

“We are delighted to support the launch of the Signs and Symptoms campaign which will feature bowel cancer. Early diagnosis is critical in order to save lives from the disease. It is the second biggest cancer killer in the UK, but it shouldn’t be as it is highly treatable if caught early.

“We hope that the campaign will encourage members of the public to recognise the symptoms of bowel cancer and act on them right away by making an appointment to see their GP so that the disease can either be ruled out or treated quickly.”

As well as the pilots for a national campaign, £9 million has been made available to fund 59 local cancer awareness campaigns led by the NHS and supported by Cancer research UK. These will target the three biggest killers, bowel, lung and breast cancer. The Government is already providing cutting-edge cancer therapies, through its commitment to invest £50 million in additional cancer drugs until the end of March and from April £200 million per year for a Cancer Drugs Fund until the end of 2013.