World Digestive Health Day (WDHD) – 29 May 2019

First launched in 2004, World Digestive Health Day has been a long-running campaign, organised by the World Gastroenterology Organization (WGO) and WGO Foundation on the 29th May every year, that aims to raise public and professional awareness about a particular digestive disorder. This year’s theme is focused on the Early Diagnosis and Treatment of Gastrointestinal (GI) Cancer.

Cancer is the second leading cause of death worldwide, and cancers of the oesophagus, stomach and bowel – collectively known as GI cancer – are amongst the most common cancers globally1,2.

Importance of Early Detection

The overall 5-year survival rate for bowel cancer is 65%, but this can increase to 90% when detected early! Screenings are a crucial component of early detection as they can identify individuals who may have abnormalities associated with certain types of cancers, even without any noticeable symptoms being present. This helps to detect bowel cancer at an earlier stage when it is easier to treat.

Did you know… in the UK the NHS sends out free home test kits, known as the faecal occult blood (FOB) test, every two years to individuals aged 60 – 74 as a simple way of screening for bowel cancer3. This test is easy and non-invasive as all it requires is a stool sample! So if you are offered the test, there really is no excuse not to take it. In some areas in the UK, screening with bowel scope tests begin as early as 55 years of age. If you have any concerns or think you may be experiencing any symptoms then you should see your GP immediately and don’t wait for screening.

What can I do to minimise my cancer risk?

Fortunately, only 5% of cancers are due to inherited genes4. This means that there are many diet and lifestyle choices we can make in order to reduce our risk of cancer.

  • Limit your intake of processed meats  –the link between consumption of processed meat and bowel cancer is well-established5. In addition to containing cancer-causing agents, processed meats are also high in fat and sodium, which can increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases as well. It is probably best to avoid the deli aisle all together, and instead opt for the unprocessed and more nutritious protein options.
  • Increase your fibre intake –fibre is our friend and not our foe! Eating more fibre can be protective against bowel cancer6, so try to get at least 30g of fibre in your diet every day to keep your digestive system happy and healthy.
  • Avoid excessive alcohol consumption –alcohol gets broken down in our bodies into a chemical called acetaldehyde, which can damage DNA and prevent our cells from properly repairing damage7. If you drink and smoke, your risk of cancer is much higher as alcohol can increase the absorption of other harmful chemicals from tobacco smoke into the cells lining the oesophagus. If you choose to drink alcohol, the guideline advises both women and men to limit their alcohol intake to 14 units a week, spread over 3 days or more8.
  • Be physically active –we all know that exercise can have many benefits on our overall health and well-being. Being physically active also helps move food through our digestive tract faster, and thus reduces the amount of time our body is in contact with potential carcinogens in food waste9.
  • Stop smoking –smoking has been linked to at least 15 different types of cancers, including all of the GI cancers too10. The number of years spent smoking, most strongly correlates with higher risk of cancer. Cigarette smoke releases over 5000 types of chemicals, all of which can cause damage in the body in different ways. Stopping smoking completely is the best thing to do for your health, and to minimise your cancer risk.

If someone you know is battling with cancer, check out MacMillan Cancer Support for advice on how you can best support and be there for them throughout their journey.




2Griffin-Sobel (2017) Gastrointestinal Cancers: Screening and Early Detection. Seminars in Oncology Nursing, 33(2): 165-171.