Famous faces have come out in support of a new, first of its kind NHS campaign aimed at tackling fears and concerns about cancer.
Former boxer Johnny Nelson, Love Islander Demi Jones and celebrity builder Tommy Walsh have all taken part in the new film, outlining their own experiences of cancer and encouraging people to not delay getting checked out.
Succession and Killing Eve actress Dame Harriet Walter and Loose Women panellist Charlene White are also backing the campaign, which is aimed at detecting cancer earlier when it is easier to treat.
Already running across TV, radio and social media, the campaign is taking a radically different approach to catching cancer earlier by tackling the fear of cancer rather than specific symptoms.
The key message is that if you think something is wrong it is always better to get checked out to put your mind at rest, or to get treatment that maximises your chances of a good outcome.
The advert shows a man who is worried about his symptoms carrying a jack-in-the-box around with him, which he winds up as he goes about his day. When he eventually gets checked and discovers he doesn’t have cancer, a consultant opens the jack-in-the-box to show it is empty.
Research alongside the launch of the campaign found that more than two in five people would either look for answers online, speak to family and friends, completely ignore it or wait to see if anything changed, before going to their GP.
The findings also showed that nearly six in 10 people (56%) say a cancer diagnosis is their biggest health fear, above other illnesses including heart disease and catching covid-19.
NHS cancer care continued during the pandemic, with treatments and referrals higher now than pre-COVID and over 200,000 people seen for urgent cancer checks in January alone.
Recent figures show that the number of people getting checked for cancer increased by over half a million (512,110) in the year between December 2020 and December 2021.
Johnny Nelson, ex-professional boxer, who features in the NHS campaign after going through a prostate cancer scare in 2020, said: “I had been thinking about visiting my GP for some time as cancer runs in my family and I am aware that I am at greater risk as a black man, but I just kept putting it off – I was apprehensive, uncomfortable and potentially a bit embarrassed.
“Once I did reach out to my GP and go through the tests, I knew it was the best thing I could have done. After the check-up, my mind was at ease and thankfully I was given the all-clear. I cannot encourage people enough to visit their GP if something doesn’t feel right”.
Dame Harriet Walter, actress from Succession and Killing Eve, said: “Most of us are reluctant to bother our GP about seemingly minor symptoms, especially during this Covid pandemic, but I often wish I had.
“When my partner dismissed a persistent cough as just his “usual” winter thing even though I didn’t, I wish I had insisted earlier that he check it out. It might have saved his life or at least prolonged it. Cancer doesn’t wait so we mustn’t wait to report worrying symptoms”.
Tommy Walsh, TV personality who features in the NHS campaign having recovered from throat cancer, said: “I went to my GP about an unrelated issue and while I was there, he discovered this lump in my throat that he was a bit concerned about. He said it may be nothing but that he would rather I went and got it checked and, unfortunately, it turned out to be cancerous.
“I had to go in straight away and have surgery to remove it. I am now fully recovered and even back playing football!
“If something in your body doesn’t feel right contact your GP practice and book an appointment. Whatever the result, the NHS is here to help.”
Kaye Adams, Loose Women presenter, who features in the NHS campaign after experiencing symptoms associated with breast cancer, said: “I first reached out to my GP when I thought one of my breasts looked a bit odd. Thank goodness they were thorough, and when the result came through it was negative.
“If your instinct is telling you that something is just not right then don’t just fret, don’t try and self-diagnose, pick up the phone and speak to someone professional. The chances are it’s not your worst fears, but if it’s not the outcome you’re looking for, the sooner you get your diagnosis, the better.”
TV presenter and Loose Women panellist, Charlene White, who is supporting the campaign, said: “I was 21 when my mother passed away from bowel cancer at just 47 years of age. Unfortunately for my mum, by the time she had noticed the symptoms the cancer had already spread and this is why campaigns like this from the NHS are so important.
“I would urge anyone who has noticed something different or is worried about a change in their body to seek advice from their doctor. If you also notice that a loved one is putting off going to see their doctor, please encourage them to overcome their fears. Many cancers are treatable if caught early so get yourself checked”.
Demi Jones, Love Island star, who recovered from thyroid cancer in 2021, said: “I first discovered a lump in my neck back in 2019. I was at university at the time and, as a young girl, I really didn’t think it would be anything to worry about, so I left it and put it to the back of my mind.
“Then, about six months later when I’d finished university, I spoke to my mum about it. She was so concerned about this lump and worried that I hadn’t got it checked out sooner. I booked an appointment with my GP who referred me to specialist straight away. Unfortunately, in March 2020, I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. Since then, I’ve had radiotherapy and iodine treatment and I’ve had the all-clear!
“A lot of people reach out to me on social media with their concerns, telling me how worried they are to reach out to a GP in case their diagnosis is cancer. It’s really important to see your GP if you think that something is wrong or if you’re worried about any of your symptoms in order to get that peace of mind”.
NHS national cancer director, Cally Palmer said: “It is heartening to see so many celebrities speak out about their own experiences and encourage others to come forward and get themselves checked.
“The fear of cancer is totally understandable and I know many people sometimes put off getting checked because they are worried about getting bad news – but we cannot emphasise enough how important is you come forward as early as you can. We would rather see you sooner with a cancer we can treat than later down the line when treatment may be more difficult.”
Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid said: “The earlier we can catch cancer, the better the chances of survival, and I thank all those involved in this life-saving campaign.
“To further transform cancer care we’ve launched a call for evidence ahead of a new 10-year cancer plan which will include pioneering mRNA vaccines for cancer. Please make your voices heard”.
GP and TV Doctor Dr Nighat Arif, who is supporting the campaign, said: “The early symptoms of cancer are not always easy to spot. If you are worried that something in your body doesn’t feel right, or if you have been experiencing symptoms that last three weeks or more, don’t let the thought of cancer play on your mind.
“I cannot urge you enough to just contact your GP practice and book an appointment – the NHS wants to see you. It is probably nothing serious, but finding cancer early makes it more treatable”.