BBC Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen has revealed he has been diagnosed with bowel cancer.
The former BBC Breakfast host said he was undergoing chemotherapy after noticing “funny pains in my legs and in my back” whilst in Iraq last May.
April is bowel cancer awareness month and Bowen shared his diagnosis to encourage others get tested.
Bowel cancer screening in England is to start earlier, at age 50, Public Health England said last year.
Doctors initially believed the veteran journalist’s pain was due to scarring from previous surgery, he told BBC Breakfast, the show which he presented alongside Sophie Raworth between 2000 and 2002.
“I had no symptoms – none of the classic bowel cancer symptoms. Nothing at all. But I thought I should get a test,” the 59-year-old said.
He said he received a positive result and had a colonoscopy – a camera inserted into his colon to look for signs of cancer.
“It [the colonoscopy] is not nearly as bad as it sounds – they give you lots of drugs,” he said.
Surgeons found a tumour, which they removed, and he started chemotherapy, he said.
What are the symptoms of bowel cancer?
- bleeding from your bottom and/or blood in your poo
- a persistent and unexplained change in bowel habit
- unexplained weight loss
- extreme tiredness for no obvious reason
- a pain or lump in your tummy
Bowen, born in Cardiff, and a BBC journalist for 35 years, said his diagnosis “could have been earlier, but had it been later it would have been much more serious”.
Bowel cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the UK, with 42,000 people diagnosed every year.
More than 16,000 people die from the cancer annually in the UK.
In England, Wales and Northern Ireland people between the ages of 60 and 75 are invited to take part in bowel cancer screening every two years. In Scotland, screening starts from age 50.
‘Don’t die of embarrassment’
Bowen said: “The key thing is – get tested. I’ve been saying to all my friends – get tested.
“Things to do with your bowels and poo … are not things people normally want to talk about. But actually it’s part of all our lives and you need to work on it.”
He said a gastroenterologist had told him: “Don’t die of embarrassment, for God’s sake.”
- ‘I can’t die yet, I’m only 29’
Bowen said the chemotherapy “is not nearly as bad as I thought it would be in terms of side effects, but it affects people differently and I think I’ve just been quite lucky to tolerate it better than I expected”.
“You’ve got to keep positive about things in life – it’s all part of the journey, as they say on Strictly [Come Dancing],” he added.