My biggest cancer-related fear at the start of this pandemic was that the intense fear that was being forced on to the population would lead to countless people being so terrified that they would not seek medical help for other conditions, including getting symptoms of cancer checked.
Whether it be through fear or simply not wanting to ‘bother their doctor’, this is exactly what happened. Late last year Macmillan estimated that 50,000 additional people had undiagnosed cancer because of the pandemic, with that number set to grow. From my experience, I suspect it will be higher than that. I speak to oncologists up and down the country all the time and everyone is finding the same thing – people are just not coming forward with symptoms. This is acceptable for weeks, but if the delays continue for months, then the patient is facing some really severe consequences from that.
There are delays and disruptions with treatment and diagnosis on the healthcare side, but it has improved dramatically. My main concern is that patients are not getting into the system. Charities like Cancer Education UK have done a fantastic job at raising awareness of this over the last year, but we all have to do more.
If you are reading this and you are worried you may have an issue, my strong advice is to get it checked. Ring your GP and explain what the problem is – they will find a way to get it checked.
More often than not it leads to nothing and there is no cause for alarm, but finding cancer early is vital so why take the risk? Either you can ease your conscience or you find a problem at an earlier stage where treatment is far more likely to work.
Mary Oladele has set up a wonderful project. If you do have an issue, get in touch with Cancer Education UK and they will help however they can.
My main message though is this – if you are concerned about any potential symptoms, get it checked!
Karol Sikora is a British physician specialising in oncology, who has been described as a leading world authority on cancer. He is a founder and medical director of Rutherford Health. You can connect with Karol on Twitter @ProfKarolSikora