Bowel cancer deaths and cases to soar by a TENTH in by 2040 amid spiralling obesity rates, charity warns

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Deaths from bowel cancer are set to rise by 2,500 a year by 2040, according to new analysis.

The number of people in the UK diagnosed with the disease will rise by around a tenth during that time.

Experts said the growing ageing population is the major driver of the rise — but admitted there are rising numbers among the young.

Being obese, eating too much red meat and not enough fibre can also cause the disease. 

Analysis released by the Bowelbabe Fund — set up in memory of Deborah James — projected that if current trends continue, bowel cancer cases will rise from the 42,800 now, to 47,700.

Cancer Research UK said the figures are a stark reminder of the ongoing need for life-saving cancer research and the importance of raising awareness around the signs and symptoms of the disease.

Analysis released by the Bowelbabe Fund — set up in memory of Deborah James (pictured) — projected that if current trends continue, bowel cancer cases will rise from the 42,800 now, to 47,700 

Bowel cancer can cause you to have blood in your poo, a change in bowel habits, a lump inside your bowel which can cause an obstruction. Some people also suffer from weight loss as a result of these symptoms

Bowel cancer can cause you to have blood in your poo, a change in bowel habit, a lump inside your bowel which can cause an obstructions. Some people also suffer with weight loss a s a result of these symptoms

Dame Deborah was a passionate advocate for this, and the Bowelbabe Fund for Cancer Research UK was set up in May 2022 to continue her legacy.

The fund has raised £13m to help combat bowel cancer and has now committed £10m to support seven pioneering projects that are helping to give more people more time with the people they love.

As part of this, £5m has been pledged over the next five years to help support the work of the Cancer Grand Challenges team PROSPECT looking into early-onset bowel cancer.

This cancer type is on the rise, but not well understood, with Deborah just 35 when she received her bowel cancer diagnosis.

Beth Vincent, health information manager at Cancer Research UK, said: ‘It’s important to remember that cancer is primarily a disease of older age, with the majority of new cancer cases being diagnosed in those aged 50 and above.

‘The predicted rise in people being diagnosed with bowel cancer in the UK can largely be explained by our growing and ageing population.

‘Globally and in the UK we’re seeing a small increase in rates of early onset bowel cancer, affecting people aged 25-49.  

‘Whilst the number of cases looks very big, this increase is partly due to population growth — though this doesn’t change how difficult it is for those who are diagnosed with cancer. 

‘No matter how old you are, if you notice any changes that are not normal for you, or something that won’t go away, don’t ignore it, speak to your doctor. 

‘In most cases, it won’t be cancer, but if it is, spotting it early can make a real difference.’ 

Around 43,000 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer each year, with around 17,000 deaths.

Other projects funded include, exploring the use of artificial intelligence, blood tests to detect the earliest signs of cancer and understanding how bowel cancer spreads and a new, advanced Interventional radiology X-Ray machine at The Royal Marsden.

Chief executive of Cancer Research UK, Michelle Mitchell, said: ‘We’re honoured that Deborah entrusted us with keeping her legacy alive by raising money to support the pioneering research and brilliant awareness activity that she was so passionate about.

‘With bowel cancer cases set to rise, we’ll continue working together with her family to keep funding work that will make the most difference for people affected by cancer and their loved ones.’


Bowel, or colorectal, cancer affects the large bowel, which is made up of the colon and rectum.

Such tumors usually develop from pre-cancerous growths, called polyps.

Symptoms include:

  • Bleeding from the bottom
  • Blood in stools
  • A change in bowel habits lasting at least three weeks
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Extreme, unexplained tiredness
  • Abdominal pain

Most cases have no clear cause, however, people are more at risk if they: 

  • Are over 50
  • Have a family history of the condition
  • Have a personal history of polyps in their bowel
  • Suffer from inflammatory bowel disease, such as Crohn’s disease
  • Lead an unhealthy lifestyle  

Treatment usually involves surgery, and chemo- and radiotherapy.

More than nine out of ten people with stage 1 bowel cancer survive five years or more after their diagnosis.

Unfortunately, only around a third of all colorectal cancers are diagnosed at this early stage. 

The majority of people come to the doctor when the disease has spread beyond the wall of the colon or rectum or to distant parts of the body, which decreasing the chance of being successfully cured of colon cancer. 

According to Bowel Cancer UK figures, more than 41,200 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer every year in the UK. 

It affects around 40 per 100,000 adults per year in the US, according to the National Cancer Institute.

CancerDeborah James


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