Bowel cancer is being diagnosed too late to be treated in thousands of patients who only discover they have the disease following an emergency admission to hospital.

By then, many patients have cancer that is too advanced for surgery and can be offered only symptomatic treatment. The findings, published by the Health and Social Care Information Centre, suggest patients are ignoring the symptoms of bowel cancer, and doctors are failing to act on them.

Of 31,000 patients with the disease admitted over a year, about 8,000 were diagnosed after emergency hospital admission. Professor Norman Williams, President of The Royal College of Surgeons, said: "More must be done to improve early detection."