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Don’t put off speaking to your GP about cancer symptoms

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Kevin O’Hagan

Cancer Prevention Manager, Irish Cancer Society

COVID-19 has had a significant impact on the delivery of cancer care in Ireland. However, cancer services are still operational at this time, despite the challenges posed by the pandemic.

Cancer screening services have been affected and there has been a rise in the number of people with cancer symptoms who are putting off going to their GP due to a fear about catching COVID-19 and not wanting to “burden” the health service.

Patients missing appointments in lockdown

Recent research commissioned by the Irish Cancer Society showed that one in four people did not attend a GP or hospital appointment when they needed to during the first lockdown. Feeling stressed, isolated, anxious or busy home schooling, may prevent people from contacting their doctor. But it’s important to put your health first and if you have any niggling worries about changes to your body, you must contact your GP.

Early detection is crucial to successful treatment of cancer. While it can be difficult to spot early stage cancers because often there are very few signs, if any, by detecting tumours at the earliest possible stage, patients have the best possible chance of curative treatment and long-term survival.

Nine out of 10 people who are diagnosed with early stage bowel cancer, (stage one) survive their disease for five years compared with only one out of 10 of those diagnosed at a late stage four. It is important to be aware of your body and If you notice any unusual change in how your body works, talk to your doctor. The chances are it will not be cancer. However, getting it checked is not wasting anyone’s time. It could save your life.

One in four people did not attend a GP or hospital appointment when they needed to during the first lockdown.

Some bodily changes that should not be ignored are:

  • A lump or swelling
  • Bleeding that is not normal for you 
  • Unexplained weight loss or tiredness
  • Pain that does not go away after three weeks
  • A cough, changes in your voice, hoarseness that lasts longer than three weeks or feeling short of breath
  • A sore or bruise that does not heal
  • Difficulty swallowing, indigestion or heartburn
  • Mouth or tongue ulcer for three weeks or more
  • A change in your bowel or bladder habit, constipation, diarrhoea or problems passing urine for more three weeks
  • A new mole or change in shape, size or colour to an existing mole
  • Any change in your breast

If you have difficulties getting through to your GP, call the Irish Cancer Society’s Support Line on 1800 200 700 to speak with a registered nurse.

The Irish Cancer Society are continuing to support cancer patients throughout the pandemic. These are challenging times for everyone, but particularly for cancer patients.

Visit www.cancer.ie for more information. 

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