A government campaign has been launched to raise awareness of the symptoms of bowel cancer.

The first campaign of its type in England - Be Clear on Cancer - says people should not “flush away” their toilet worries.

It urges anyone who has blood in their stools or loose stools for more than three weeks to see their GP as soon as possible.

Bowel cancer affects 33,000 people every year in England and leads to 13,000 deaths, with most cases occurring in people over the age of 55.

If spotted early, it is often treatable, with more than 90 per cent of people diagnosed at an early stage surviving for at least five years.

However, this figure drops to just 6 per cent if people are diagnosed at a late stage.

The government believes an extra 1,700 lives could be saved every year if England’s bowel cancer survival rates matched the best in Europe.

Other symptoms of bowel cancer can include a pain or lump in the abdomen, feeling more tired than usual and over a period of time, and unexplained weight loss.

In December, the government’s national clinical director for cancer Professor Sir Mike Richards wrote to NHS trusts telling them to prepare for an increase in referrals as a result of the campaign.

Government figures suggest it could lead to an extra 15,000 referrals for colonoscopies across England.

A colonoscopy involves using a camera to examine the lining of the bowel to assess any changes that may suggest cancer.

An average-sized NHS trust can expect to see an extra 100 colonoscopies as a result of the campaign.

When the campaign was piloted in the South West and east of England last year, GPs saw the number of people over the age of 50 coming in with relevant symptoms increase by 48 per cent.

This is about one extra patient per GP practice per week.