Powys farmer encourages others to take bowel screening test after receiving his own cancer diagnosis


A farmer who was diagnosed with bowel cancer is urging others not to ignore a simple test which can help save lives.

David Bebb, 74, took part in the bowel screening process for the fifth time in April 2019 and received the news his test was positive later that same month.

Following a colonoscopy, the farmer from Aberbechan, near Newtown, was referred to Mr Michael Thornton, Consultant Colorectal Surgeon, at Wrexham Maelor Hospital where he received surgery to remove the tumour from his bowel.

“It was a real surprise when I was diagnosed with bowel cancer, I didn’t have any of the symptoms which are usually linked with the disease.

“I am very lucky, if I had not taken the test I still may not have known I had cancer and I could have been in a much worse position.  

“I’m now currently on chemotherapy following my surgery and luckily the cancer has not spread into my lymph nodes so I’m now in the final stages of my treatment.

“I was seen so quickly. I had my colonoscopy ten days following my test result which was followed by an MRI and CT scan then surgery at the Maelor. This was all allocated within six weeks of the original test results.”

Farmer1 Mr Bebb is supporting calls from his surgeon as well as Colorectal Nurse Practitioner Yvonne Whittaker and Nurse Anne Thomas at Dolgellau Hospital who are raising awareness of the bowel screening process amongst the farming community.

Mr Thornton said: “Over the last few years I have seen an increase in the number of farmers presenting with advanced stages of bowel cancer.

“It is really important that those eligible take part in the screening process, it can help detect bowel cancer at an early stage, when it’s easier to treat.

“The screening process allows us to pick up cancer at an early stage and help us check for and remove small growths in the bowel called polyps, which can turn into cancer over time.”

Bowel Screening Wales invites men and women between the ages of 60 and 74, and who are living in Wales, for a simple bowel screening test every two years which they can complete at home and receive the results within 2 weeks.

Mr Bebb, who also offers support to farmers through the Farming Community Network charity, said: “I know many friends who are also farmers who have not taken the test, I know some who have thrown it away.

“I make sure I tell everyone now that they must take this test – it saved my life.

“I understand farmers can be concerned about what would happen to their livelihood if they did receive the news they had cancer but it is so important to take the test and if it is bad news then the medical team have a better chance of curing it if it’s caught early.”

Yvonne, who is also based at Wrexham Maelor Hospital, and reviews patients following their surgery for bowel cancer, has praised Mr Bebb for speaking out about his diagnosis.

She said: “I think it’s very brave of Mr Bebb to speak publicly about his diagnosis in the hope it will encourage more farmers and others to take part in the screening process.

“He is absolutely right when he says that if the cancer is caught early there is much more of a chance it can be cured with less invasive treatment.

“We hope to continue to raise awareness by also working with Anne at Dolgellau Hospital by providing information to those in the rural community on bowel screening so they have all the information available.”

As part of Anne’s role at Dolgellau Hospital she also goes out into the community to support farmer’s health and wellbeing.

She said: “We go to farmers markets and farming fairs to raise awareness of support available for mental well-being and more recently, we have used this as an opportunity to raise awareness of the bowel screening programme in Wales.

“We provide leaflets, explain the benefits and show how easy the test is to do.

“We have had an extremely positive response, especially that they can ring the helpline for another test kit if they have thrown the original away.

“We hope that by raising awareness of the benefits of bowel screening and early reporting of symptoms that the numbers of farmers presented with advanced bowel cancer will decrease.”

For further information visit: www.bowelscreening.wales.nhs.uk