Dame Deborah James‘s husband has urged millions of Brits to take up the offer of life-saving NHS bowel cancer tests.
Sebastien Bowen, who married Dame Deborah in 2008, said: ‘Deborah knew early diagnosis saves lives and that giving more people access to tests would do that.’
Speaking to The Sun, he added: ‘The sooner you are diagnosed the more likely it is that treatment will be successful.
‘Deborah didn’t get that chance, by the time her cancer was caught it had already spread.’
The campaigner, columnist and podcast host died of bowel cancer last year, aged 40, after raising £7.5million for her BowelBabe fund for Cancer Research UK.
Sebastien Bowen (pictured above), who married Dame Deborah in 2008, told The Sun: ‘Deborah knew early diagnosis saves lives and that giving more people access to tests would do that.’
Dame Deborah James (above), a campaigner, columnist and podcast host died of bowel cancer last year, aged 40. She raised £7.5million for her BowelBabe fund for Cancer Research UK
It comes as the NHS today launched a new drive to encourage more people to take part in the free bowel cancer screening programme.
Over half a million faecal immunochemical test (FIT) kits, are offered by the NHS to over 50s in England every month by post.
The kit can help spot the condition early and those who use it are nine times more likely to survive.
But new NHS figures show a record 70 per cent of those eligible are participating in bowel testing, leaving almost a third not returning their test kit.
A small stick provided helps collect a tiny sample of poo from the toilet, which is then sent back to an NHS lab in a plastic pot.
It then checks for small amounts of blood in poo – that would not be visible to the naked eye – as this could be an early sign something is wrong.
People aged 60 to 74 years who are registered with a GP practice and live in England are automatically sent an FIT kit every two years.
As part of plans to lower the age of people that receive the test to age 50 by 2025, the kits are also currently rolled out to 56 and 58-year-olds.
Mr Bowen also told The Sun: ‘I know how much it meant to Deborah to see these tests being sent to people in their 50s before she died.
‘So if you get sent a test, don’t put it off, it could be the difference between life and death.
‘Do it for Deborah, check your poo.’
Bowel cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the UK, accounting for 11 per cent of all new cancer cases with around 42,900 diagnoses each year.
It is also the second biggest cancer killer. Almost 43,000 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer in the UK each year and more than 16,500 people die from it – more than 45 a day.
Some 106,970 new cases of colon cancer – bowel cancer – are diagnosed each year in the US, the American Cancer Society estimates.
In August the NHS said campaigning by Dame Deborah has led record numbers of people to test themselves for the illness.
According to the NHS, between May and July last year, there were over 170,500 referrals for suspected lower gastro-intestinal cancers – up over 30,000 compared to the same period in the previous year.
It was also nearly 80,000 higher than the same period two years ago.
Dame Deborah James (right) pictured with her You, Me and The Big C podcast co-hosts Lauren Mahon (centre) and Rachael Bland (left)
In August the NHS said campaigning by Dame Deborah has led record numbers of people to test themselves for the illness. Pictured above with her mother Heather
Mr Bowen also told The Sun: ‘I know how much it meant to Deborah to see these tests being sent to people in their 50s before she died. So if you get sent a test, don’t put it off, it could be the difference between life and death.’ Pictured above with Dame Deborah with her husband Sebastien Bowen
NHS chiefs have urged people not to be ‘prudish about poo’, with people often reluctant to talk about it as a possible bowel cancer symptom due to embarrassment.
Simon Clarke, 67, from Hornsey in north London, caught the cancer early by using the kit.
He said: ‘I wasn’t particularly worried but when they analysed the polyps, cancer was in one of them.
In May last year, Dame Deborah was awarded a Damehood. Pictured, Prince William meeting the campaigner, columnist and podcast host at her home and presenting her with her Damehood
‘They caught it as a very minor tumour and it hadn’t spread. Without the screening I wouldn’t have known it was there.
‘Use the bowel cancer screening kit when you’re sent it, because if it catches something early like it did with me, it could save your life.’
Following the NHS campaign launch, Professor Peter Jones, national clinical director for cancer, said: ‘I would urge everyone who is sent a kit to return their test as quickly as they can… don’t die of embarrassment.’
Meanwhile, Genevieve Edwards, chief executive of charity Bowel Cancer UK, added: ‘Quite simply, bowel cancer screening could save your life and we would encourage everyone to complete the test when they receive it.’
Health Secretary Steve Barclay said: ‘With the launch of the NHS’s first national campaign on bowel cancer screening, more people will be encouraged to use the home testing kit when they receive it.
‘Screening makes it more likely that bowel cancer will be successfully detected and treated.’
People worried they may have missed their invitation or have lost or thrown away their kit can call the free bowel cancer screening helpline for advice on 0800 707 60 60.
Figures released last week revealed that half of NHS hospital trusts missed a crucial two-week cancer diagnosis target every month last year.
The health service says 93 per cent of patients should have an appointment with a specialist within a fortnight of an urgent GP referral.
But analysis of official data by the House of Commons library showed this was missed by 63 out of 132 trusts in England (48 per cent) every month in 2022.