Record numbers of people have received referrals for suspected bowel cancer following the campaigning of the late Dame Deborah James.

More than 170,500 people were referred for checks between May and July, up over 30,000 compared to the same period last year and nearly 80,000 more than the same period in 2020.

The latest figures published by NHS Digital highlight the positive impact of the messages imparted by Dame Deborah during the final weeks of her life of the importance of checking bowel habits.

Dame Deborah died on 28 June, nearly six years after being diagnosed with incurable bowel cancer. The former head teacher spoke openly about her symptoms, diagnosis and treatment as co-host of the BBC podcast You, Me and the Big C and through her irreverent social media posts on Instagram.

An extra 200,000 people visited the NHS website for the symptoms of bowel cancer during the last three months, compared to the same period last year. There was also an increase of 120% to bowel cancer information pages of Cancer Research UK.

Michelle Mitchell, chief executive at Cancer Research UK, said: 'Deborah’s honesty and humour has changed the conversation around cancer and she’s undoubtedly had a huge impact on raising awareness. We hope that the impact of this increased awareness of the disease will be felt for years to come.

'It’s important that people contact their GP if they notice any changes to their body which aren’t normal for them. While most changes won’t be cancer, if it is, an early diagnosis can make all the difference.'

Genevieve Edwards, chief executive at Bowel Cancer UK, said the number of people visiting had never been higher, 'with tens of thousands more people seeking information about the symptoms of the disease since Dame Deborah James’ tragic death'.

Bowel cancer is the fourth most common cancer in England with around 37,000 new cases diagnosed each year.

People most at risk of getting bowel cancer are aged over 50; have a strong family history of bowel cancer; have an inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis; are type 2 diabetic or participate in an unhealthy lifestyle by smoking, drinking excess alcohol, eating too much processed foods, not eating enough fibre, and not taking enough exercise.

Key symptoms of bowel cancer include blood in faeces, bleeding from the anus, a persistent and unexplained change in bowel habit, unexplained weight loss, extreme tiredness with no obvious cause, and a lump or pain in the abdomen.