Over half of us worry about cancer every few months – but we’re not talking to our GPs about it

New research has revealed two-thirds of people would speak to their friends and family about potential cancer symptoms before going to a doctor.

Putting off going to see the GP is one of those things we’ve all been guilty of at one point or another. Whether you’re worried about how long you’re going to have to wait, have convinced yourself your issue will “go away on its own” or have had a bad experience in the past, there are many reasons why people might avoid a trip to the doctor.

However, seeing a medical professional when you notice something isn’t quite right is one of the most important things you can do for your health, and putting off that initial appointment can have serious consequences – especially when it comes to the diagnosis and treatment of cancer.

That’s the message behind the latest stage of the Help Us, Help You campaign from NHS England, which is calling on anyone experiencing worrying symptoms to reach out to their GP practice.  

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The campaign comes after a new survey of 2000 UK adults found that over half (53%) of the public worries about cancer every few months or more, but two-thirds (66%) of us would speak to our friends and family before anyone else (including our GP) if they were concerned about a potential symptom.

The research also found that the most common reasons people had for not going to their GP in these circumstances included not wanting to find out bad news and hoping the symptoms would eventually go away on their own. However, the fact of the matter is that things rarely do ‘just go away’ and responding to the warning signs your body is giving you could be potentially life-saving.

“Cancers are much more likely to be treated successfully if caught at an early stage, which is why it’s so important to seek medical advice if you have cause for concern,” explains NHS GP and medic Dr Dawn Harper. “The average cancer survival rate in England is around 75% – and is even higher for some cancers – but all cancers are much more likely to be treated successfully if caught early.”  

Cancer is more likely to be treated successfully when caught earlier.

In the case of bowel cancer, Dr Harper explains, nine in 10 patients will survive if diagnosed at the earliest stage – and over 90% of women diagnosed with the earliest stage of ovarian cancer will survive as a result of early diagnosis too.

“We know that a lot of people worry about cancer – a recent survey found that one in six worry once a week or more – but overcoming this fear and taking the first step to contact your GP could be lifesaving, which is why I am spreading this extremely important message,” Dr Harper continues. “You won’t be wasting your doctor’s time, and until you find out, you can’t rule it out.”

For many people, one of the biggest barriers to attending a GP appointment is the worry about what to expect. So, to help you take that initial step, we asked Dr Harper to spell out everything that happens when you go to your GP with a potentially worrying symptom. Here’s what she had to say. 

What happens when you go to the GP concerned about a potential sign of cancer?

Once you’ve made an appointment with your GP and made your way to the practice, your GP will start by asking you about your symptoms and how they’ve been affecting you.

Most symptoms will probably turn out to be nothing serious, but you won’t know that for sure until a medical expert is able to take a closer look.

“[The GP] will ask you about your symptoms – what they are, when you get them and whether anything makes them better or worse,” Dr Harper explains.  

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“They will also ask you about your general health. Depending on your symptoms, a physical examination may be carried out in the areas that might feel swollen, tender or abnormal.

“After your examination, your GP may then arrange for you to have some blood tests, which are usually done at the GP practice. To rule out cancer, they might also refer you to the hospital for tests or to see a specialist. Whatever the result, your NHS is here for you.” 

What happens if the symptoms turn out to be a cause for concern?

Finding out something might be wrong can be incredibly scary, but there are a series of frameworks in place to ensure you get the care you need.

“Cancer is a priority for the NHS,” Dr Harper says. “If your GP suspects cancer, they’ll refer you to a specialist – usually within two weeks. Hospital specialists have a wide range of tests they can do to help rule out cancer.”

Dr Harper continues: “Whatever your diagnosis, the NHS will be there for you. If something in your body doesn’t feel right – or you are experiencing symptoms that last three weeks or more – please contact your GP practice as soon as you can.”

For more information about cancer and the symptoms to look out for, you can visit the NHS website. 

Images: Getty

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