One of the biggest problems facing bowel cancer awareness campaigns is that the symptoms of the disease are taboo. "Sadly, nobody likes to talk about bottoms," says Katherine Brown, press and PR officer for Bowel Cancer UK. The statistics seem to back her up.
April is Bowel Cancer Awareness Month, and to coincide with it the charity has launched the Sit Down On It appeal. It aims to increase awareness about the disease and raise £2m for specialist nurses to run the charity's community-based advisory service.
Bowel cancer is the second most common cause of death from cancer in the UK. Of the 35,000 people diagnosed every year, 16,000 will die from the disease, even though it is highly treatable if caught in the early stages. This suggests that breaking taboos could save lives. So the challenge for Bowel Cancer UK is to ensure people are no longer embarrassed to talk about the disease.
Central to the appeal is a competition to win 'prizes that money can't buy', including lunch with Peter Kenyon, chief executive of Chelsea FC, tickets to ITV's Parkinson, with post-show hospitality, and backstage passes to meet pop group McFly. The competition runs from 7 to 14 April.
Participants enter by text message, which costs £1.50, or through the website www.sitdownonit.com. The multimedia entry mechanism and the broad appeal of the prizes indicate a desire not only to raise money, but also to get the message across to people of all ages.
"As a smaller charity, we have to think and act in a tech-savvy way," says Neil Brookes, chief executive of the charity. "This means we stand the best possible chance of promoting our appeal to a large consumer audience on a limited budget."
The appeal was launched last week with an event at the Dorchester Hotel, London, attended by seven fired stars of the BBC's The Apprentice.
"We're aiming at all ages with this appeal," said Brown. "Traditionally, bowel cancer is seen as a disease that affects the over-50s, but increasingly younger people are living with the disease, so with Sit Down On It we've gone for as wide an appeal as we possibly can."