NHS chief urges people to come forward for life saving cancer checks ahead of new campaign

The new head of the NHS in England has today encouraged people with potential cancer symptoms to come forward for lifesaving checks.

Ahead of a new campaign launching next week, NHS England chief executive, Amanda Pritchard said that the NHS is open and ready to treat people, and urged anyone with potential cancer symptoms to come forward.

Research shows that three in five people (60%) are concerned about burdening the NHS, with half (49%) saying they would delay seeking medical advice compared to before the pandemic.

Launching on Monday, the next phase of the ‘Help Us, Help You’ campaign from NHS England, with support from Public Health England, will use TV and digital adverts, posters and social media to raise awareness of symptoms of cancers in the abdominal area, urological cancers, and lung cancer.

The ads will feature people with a range of symptoms, such as prolonged discomfort in the tummy area or a persistent cough, and aim to persuade people experiencing these to contact their GP.

Around a quarter of a million people were checked for cancer in June, the second highest number on record, and treatment numbers have been back at usual levels since March. More than 27,000 people started treatment for cancer in June, a 42% increase on the same time last year.

The NHS chief stressed that there could be tens of thousands more people who are not coming forward, either because they’re unaware of common cancer symptoms, or because they feel they would burden the NHS.

Despite abdominal and urological cancers accounting for nearly half (44%) of all cancer diagnoses and two in five (41%)[3] cancer deaths in England, new figures from the NHS show that many people are unaware of common warning signs – which could prevent them seeking help.

Three in five (63%) people said they didn’t recognise discomfort in the abdominal area for three weeks or more as an indication of cancer.

Alongside abdominal and urological cancers, the campaign will also highlight common signs of lung cancer – after research has found that two in five people don’t recognise that a persistent cough for more than three weeks as a sign of the disease. There is also concern the symptom could easily be confused with COVID-19.

NHS chief executive, Amanda Pritchard, said: “We know that thousands of people could be risking their lives by delaying medical attention for cancer symptoms.

“We are open and ready to treat people with potential cancer symptoms. From Monday, this campaign will remind people of the signs and symptoms to look out for and encourage them to get checked if something isn’t quite right.

“Thanks to the hard work of NHS staff, we are back on track with cancer referrals, diagnosis and treatment so, whether you or a loved one has a routine appointment, or a potential cancer symptom, please don’t delay and come forward to get yourself checked – we would rather see you sooner when any cancer would be easier to treat.”

“It’s incredibly important that people recognise the common symptoms that can signal a cancer diagnosis – and it’s vital that they take action by making an appointment with their GP, that could ultimately save their life.”

Health and Social Care Secretary, Sajid Javid, said: “NHS staff have pulled out all the stops to prioritise cancer care throughout the pandemic, with millions of diagnostic tests now being carried out a month. Thanks to their dedication, the NHS is open for us all and anyone who has concerns should come forward.

“If you suspect you might have symptoms of cancer, as highlighted by this important new campaign, don’t hesitate to seek advice from your GP. The earlier we can spot cancer, the more lives we can save.

“I will continue to support the NHS to deliver the appointments, operations and treatment people need, as we get back to normal life as quickly as possible.”

Dame Cally Palmer, Director of the NHS Cancer Programme, said: “Cancer diagnosis and treatment has been an absolute priority throughout the pandemic and continues to be so. Over the last few months we’ve seen record demand for cancer services and it’s encouraging that so many people came forward for potentially life-saving checks in June.

“We want to build on this success, and make sure that people who might be experiencing symptoms are not afraid or anxious about coming forward. Our message is clear – if you are experiencing any worrying symptoms, please see your GP.”

Symptoms that could be possible signs of abdominal or urological cancers include:

  • Discomfort in the tummy area for three weeks or more
  • Diarrhoea for three weeks or more
  • Blood in your pee – even just once

People are being reminded to contact their GP if they have any of these symptoms. People should also speak to their GP if they notice any other unusual changes, such as a lump in the tummy area, post-menopausal bleeding, or unexplained weight loss, as these can also be signs of cancer.

For lung cancer, symptoms can include:

  • A cough for three weeks or more that isn’t COVID
  • Chest infections that keep coming back
  • Coughing up blood

Professor Peter Johnson, National Clinical Director for Cancer, said: “It’s important to get checked as soon as possible if you notice something that isn’t normal for you.  Most symptoms will not be from cancer, but if they are, seeing someone quickly will give you the best chance of diagnosis at an earlier stage when cancers are easier to treat.

“This is particularly important where symptoms are less obvious: some uncommon cancers can be hard to pin down, which can mean they take longer to diagnose and treatment time is lost.

“Thanks to the hard work of NHS staff, we are back on track with cancer referrals, diagnosis and treatment so, whether you or a loved one has a routine appointment, or a potential cancer symptom, please don’t delay and come forward to get yourself checked – we would rather see you sooner with a cancer that is easier to treat than later than a cancer that isn’t as easy to treat.”

Michelle Mitchell, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, said: “This important campaign is coming at a crucial time when tens of thousands of people have yet to be diagnosed with cancer. If you’ve noticed an unusual change in your health, don’t be tempted to put it down to getting older or to a pre-existing condition – contact your GP. If you have trouble getting through to the practice at first, do keep trying.

“And when you speak to your GP – whether that’s face to face, on the phone or by email – if you’re worried that you might have cancer, mention that to them and attend any follow up tests your GP thinks are needed. If you do need to visit in person but you have concerns about COVID-19, speak to a healthcare professional.”

Jane Lyons, CEO of Cancer52, said: “It’s great to see this campaign to encourage people who think they might have a cancer symptom to get in touch with their GP.  And especially important to encourage people who have symptoms like prolonged discomfort in the tummy area which can be indicators of cancers like ovarian or womb cancer. The chances that most of the time these symptoms don’t turn out to be cancer.  But if they are, the sooner people get some help the better, so please do take that first step.”

Genevieve Edwards, Chief Executive at Bowel Cancer UK, says: “We can’t say this strongly enough, if you have any symptoms of bowel cancer please don’t put off visiting your GP. They will want to see you.

“Bowel cancer is the UK’s second biggest cancer killer, but it doesn’t have to be, as it’s treatable and curable, especially if it’s diagnosed early. So it’s really important that anybody with signs of the disease, including bleeding from your bottom or blood in your poo, a persistent and unexplained change in bowel habit, unexplained weight loss, extreme tiredness for no obvious reason and a pain or lump in your tummy, contacts their GP straight away.”

Dr Lydia Makaroff, Chief Executive of Fight Bladder Cancer, said: “We are delighted to see this most-needed campaign to increase the awareness of urological symptoms. Finding cancer early makes it more treatable, so we urge anyone with these symptoms to speak to their GP. If you suspect that you may have cancer you are likely to be experiencing a whirlwind of emotions. Whatever the outcome, remember that you are not alone. The NHS and charities like us are here to support you.”

Health Minister, Lord Bethell, said: “No one should be deterred from seeking potentially life-saving diagnosis and treatment. The launch of the next phase of the NHS’s Help Us, Help You campaign will help raise awareness of the symptoms of certain cancers and encourage people to speak to their GP if they have any concerns.

“We are backing the NHS to recover from this pandemic and tens of thousands are starting treatment for cancer every month, so don’t delay and seek advice as soon as possible so we can save even more lives.”