Stephen Fry joins NHS campaign urging people to come forward for cancer checks

National treasure and cancer survivor Stephen Fry is backing an NHS campaign encouraging people with potential cancer symptoms to come forward for lifesaving checks.

In a new film being released today (3 September) as part of the NHS ‘Help Us, Help You’ campaign, supported by Public Health England, Stephen Fry talks about being ‘stunned’ to be diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2018, and says he was lucky it was detected early.

The actor and comedian reassures people with symptoms that the NHS is keen to see them if they think something is wrong, saying that he knows from “personal experience how important catching cancer sooner is to survival.”

The new film follows figures revealing more than half of people (51%) would be put off going to see their doctor if they had symptoms such as tummy troubles for three weeks or blood in their pee due to feeling embarrassed.

Referrals and treatment levels for cancer are back to pre-pandemic levels, with latest data showing more than 230,000 people were checked in June – the second highest number of patients seen in a single month on record.

More than 27,000 started treatment in June with the overwhelming majority starting within a month (95%).

Symptoms that could be possible signs of cancers in the abdominal area and urological cancers include persistent diarrhoea, prolonged discomfort in the tummy area, or blood in your pee – even just once.

Despite abdominal and urological cancers accounting for nearly half (44%) of all cancer diagnoses and two in five (41%)[1] 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.

More than one in four people (29%) did not know that tummy troubles and diarrhoea for three weeks or more could be a sign of cancer, while more than a third (36%) mistook it as a sign of getting older.

Actor, comedian and writer Stephen Fry, who was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2018, said: “A few years ago, I was pretty stunned to be given a diagnosis of cancer in my prostate area – I was very lucky because mine was diagnosed early.

“All of us can succumb to cancers in the abdominal region but there are symptoms that can be looked for. Self-examination is a pretty useful thing so please, make an appointment with your GP if you notice discomfort in the tummy area or diarrhoea for three weeks or more, or blood in your pee – even just once.”

Earlier this month NHS chiefs stressed there could be tens of thousands more people with symptoms who are not coming forward, either because they’re unaware of common cancer symptoms, or because they feel they would burden the NHS.

Dame Cally Palmer, Director of the NHS Cancer Programme, said: “We are very grateful to Stephen Fry for helping us to raise awareness of cancer symptoms. We continue to encourage anyone with potential symptoms to make an appointment to see their GP as soon as possible.

“The NHS has made effective use of resources available to us to maintain and recover services and we are back to usual levels for treatment and referrals for cancer, but we know that thousands of people could be risking their lives by delaying medical attention for cancer symptoms – please help us to help you by coming forward for a lifesaving check if you have a worrying sign or symptom.”

Alongside Stephen Fry, others who have been diagnosed with abdominal and urological cancers share their stories as part of the campaign, encouraging people “if in doubt, check it out”, and to not be embarrassed to talk about bowel problems.

The figures also show half of people would put off going to see their doctor if they had cancer symptoms out of fear of wasting their time, and 71% would only speak to their doctor about cancer symptoms if they were sure it was something serious.

Dr Hilary Jones, who is also backing the campaign, said: “As a GP and having seen instances of urological and abdominal cancers in the past, I can honestly say if you’re experiencing any tummy troubles for a few weeks, your GP will want to know about it.

“Hopefully it’s nothing serious, but if it is cancer there are lots of treatment options available and the earlier cancer is found, the better.

“I know that some of my patients are nervous to come to my clinic because of coronavirus, but the NHS has put measures in place to ensure we can see you safely so please, come and see us.”

In July, the NHS announced £20 million investment to speed up cancer diagnosis so that thousands more people can get potentially life-saving cancer checks.

The NHS Long Term Plan committed to catching three quarters of cancers early, when they are easier to treat, up from half at present.