Cancer is a disease that will affect most of us in one way or another during our lifetimes. We may be caring for a loved one with cancer, we may know someone who is undergoing treatment or we may develop a cancer of some sort ourselves.
One in two people will develop cancer at some point in their lives and in the UK, there are approximately 367,000 new cancer cases diagnosed every year (CRUK statistics, 2015 – 2017). Cancer survival is improving though and has doubled in the last 40 years. This is largely thanks to improvements in treatments, increasing awareness of the disease and the screening programmes which help to detect cancers.
Raising awareness of the signs and symptoms of cancers is important as patients diagnosed at an early stage are more likely to survive longer with potentially more treatment options being available.
September is an awareness month for both gynaecological cancers and childhood cancers.
Every day in the UK, an average of 12 children and young people will receive the news that they have cancer. Advances in treatment and care have dramatically improved the outlook for young cancer patients but sadly, out of the 12 children diagnosed each day, two will not survive. Childhood Cancer Awareness Month helps to highlight the impact of cancer on children, young people and their families. The charity Children with Cancer UK has a very informative website for anyone affected by childhood cancer.
September is also Gynaecological Cancer Awareness Month. Gynaecological cancers are often regarded as a taboo subject but each year, more than 21,000 women are diagnosed with a gynaecological cancer and over a third of these women will sadly die.
This awareness month therefore aims to raise awareness of the five gynaecological cancers that can affect women. Knowing the signs and symptoms is important to support the early diagnosis of these cancers. Knowing your own body and what is normal for you is also essential so you can spot when something feels abnormal. Hopefully then you can feel comfortable talking about it with a friend, partner or healthcare professional.
Stigma, embarrassment, fear of pain and being unaware of the signs and symptoms are key barriers for women talking openly about their gynaecological health, attending screening appointments or seeking medical help. But women need to be able to talk about it as they would if they had a painful arm or leg.
In a recent survey by The Eve Appeal, they found that 8 in 10 women would not visit their doctor after unexpected vaginal bleeding despite it being a key symptom of gynaecological cancers. I urge you to seek medical advice if you are concerned about your health or if you have any symptoms.
Dr Sue Ward, vice president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said: “Cancer that is diagnosed at an early stage is more likely to be treated successfully, but sadly a worryingly high number of women are diagnosed with late-stage gynaecological cancers every day in the UK.”
The Eve Appeal has joined forces with the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists to draw up a series of tips to help women notice any abnormal bleeding.
I understand that people are anxious about going to see a GP or nurse in the wake of the coronavirus. Please be reassured that health services are open for you. Safety measures have been put in place in all health settings – local practices, hospitals and pharmacies, both to keep you and our staff safe.
So don’t sit at home worrying about any signs and symptoms you are concerned about. We want to avoid missing serious conditions like cancers. It’s also vital that if you do need treatment for a health condition, we can start this as early as possible, so I’m asking you all to think about your health and if you need to speak to someone, please don’t be afraid to ask.
Services are open and available to support your health needs, they may just be different to how you have experienced them before:
- Telephone triage before your appointment to check you don’t have any symptoms of coronavirus and to ensure you are referred to the right medical professional
- Video and telephone consultations with a GP or nurse
- Social distancing – you may be asked to wait in your car before your appointment or you may have to queue outside
- Practices and hospitals may have dedicated zones/areas to keep people separated and safe
- Staff will be wearing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
Please be confident enough to act if something doesn’t feel right. Talk to someone about your symptoms and don’t be afraid to speak to a healthcare professional if you are concerned.