The bowel cancer symptom George Alagiah wished he’d caught earlier

The newsreader died while ‘surrounded by his family and loved ones’

Kate Ng
Friday 28 July 2023 20:40 BST
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George Alagiah on living with cancer and coronavirus

BBC presenter George Alagiah has died at the age of 67, after nearly a decade of living with bowel cancer.

The newsreader was first diagnosed in 2014. He underwent several rounds of treatment after the cancer returned and spread over the last few years.

In a statement, his agent Mary Greenham said: “George fought until the bitter end but sadly that battle ended earlier today. George was deeply loved by everybody who knew him, whether it was a friend, a colleague or a member of the public.

“He simply was a wonderful human being. My thoughts are with Fran, the boys and his wider family.”

Earlier this year, Alagiah opened up about a symptom he wished he had caught earlier: blood in his stools. He was taking part in an NHS campaign to encourage the wider public to take up its bowel cancer screening program.

He urged people who have received a free test kit from the health service “not to ignore it” because it “could save your life”.

“Had I been screened, I could have been picked up. I would have been screened at least three times and possibly four by the time I was 58 and this would have been caught at the stage of a little polyp: snip, snip,” he said at the time.

Alagiah received his diagnosis after speaking to doctors about finding blood in his stools. He underwent 17 rounds of chemotherapy and five operations to treat the disease, which eventually spread to his liver and lymph nodes.

He supported a campaign by Bowel Cancer UK and Beating Bowel Cancer to make cancer screening available to everyone in England from the age of 50. Currently, screening is available to everyone aged 60 to 74, but the NHS is expanding to include everyone aged 50 to 59 years old.

George Alagiah (Macmillan Cancer Support/PA)
George Alagiah (Macmillan Cancer Support/PA) (PA Media)

Around 42,000 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer every year in the UK, with 90 per cent of diagnoses made in people over the age of 50. It the fourth most common cancer and the second biggest cancer killer, leading to around 16,800 deaths every year.

The three main symptoms of bowel cancer include having persistent blood in the stools; an ondoing change in bowel habits, such as needing to go more often or having diarrhoea; and persistent lower abdominal pain, bloating or discomfort.

Some patients may also experience a loss of appetite, or significant, unintentional weight loss. According to Cancer Research UK, another potential symptom is tenesmus, which is the feeling of having to defecate without having stools, or experiencing pain upon defecation.

Studies have found that several factors could potentially increase the risk of bowel cancer, although they cannot explain every case.

These include a diet high in red or processed meats and low in fibre; being overweight or obese; not exercising often enough; and drinking too much alcohol.

Smoking and having a family history of the disease can also increase the risk. Some people with long-term conditions like extensive ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease may also have an increased risk of bowel cancer.

Bowel cancer can be treated with surgery, which may be paired with chemotherapy, radiotherapy or biological treatments. Catching the cancer at an early stage greatly improves chances of survival.

However, the NHS states that if a cancerous tumour cannot be removed completely through surgery, then a cure may not be possible.

For more information about treatment for bowel cancer, visit the NHS here and Cancer Research UK here.

To speak to a Cancer Research UK nurse, you can call 0808 800 4040. The helpline is free and open from Monday to Friday, from 9am until 5pm.

Additional reporting by PA

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