South West NHS backs new campaign to combat the fear of cancer

The NHS in the South West is backing an innovative national cancer campaign that launches today (Wed), aimed not just at encouraging people to come forward for diagnosis or raising awareness of the warning signs, but directly addressing concerns about the prospect of having cancer.

The new campaign will aim to encourage people to get checked at the earliest opportunity, to help allay concerns about the disease – whether for themselves or for others.

It reflects the findings from survey work in the South West that:

  • 71% of people were afraid of being diagnosed with cancer
  • Nearly half were worried about being a burden on friends and family (by far the highest proportion in England)
  • More than a third were worried about chemotherapy
  • Nearly one in five would not go to their GP about a serious bodily change, hoping that symptoms would go away
  • Nearly a third wouldn’t want to go and find out bad news or waste NHS time

Even so, more than three-quarters recognised that catching cancer early made it more treatable.

Launching officially on Wednesday, the TV adverts, radio clips and social media posts will show a man who is worried about his symptoms carrying a jack-in-the-box which he carries with him and winds up as he goes about his day.

When he eventually gets checked and discovers he doesn’t have cancer, the doctor opens the jack-in-the-box to show it is empty.

NHS bosses and cancer charities are urging people not to delay “lifesaving” checks, highlighting that nine in 10 of those checked turn out not to have cancer but that it is better to know so that people can get treated early when chances of survival are highest.

Dr Michael Marsh, Medical Director for NHS England and NHS Improvement in the South West, said:

“We’ve made huge progress with cancer care over the years, but it’s clear that people are still very worried about the disease and the treatment they might need.

“It says something for people in the South West that one of their biggest concerns – much more than in other parts of the country – is the impact on others rather than on themselves.

“The good news is that the great majority of those who come forward with symptoms don’t actually have cancer. And coming for help early means that the few who do have cancer have a much better chance of successful treatment.

“So it’s really good to see a campaign like this that urges people not to hide their fears away, but to get the help they need.”

Cancers are much more likely to be treated successfully if caught at an early stage.

More than nine in 10 bowel cancer patients will survive the disease for more than five years if diagnosed at the earliest stage. Similarly, 92.8% of women diagnosed with the earliest stage ovarian cancer survive the disease for at least five years compared to around 13.3% for women diagnosed with the most advanced stage of the disease.

The NHS has seen record numbers of people coming forward for cancer tests, with over 246,000 checked in November – three times as many compared to the beginning of the pandemic in April 2020 – more than nine in ten people received their first treatment within a month.

Not all the symptoms of cancer are easy to spot. The NHS is encouraging people to contact their GP practice if they experience any of the below symptoms:

  • Tummy trouble, such as discomfort or diarrhoea for three weeks or more, or
  • Blood in your pee – even just once;
  • Unexpected or unexplained bleeding;
  • Unexplained pain that lasts three weeks or more;
  • An unexplained lump; or
  • A cough for three weeks or more (that isn’t COVID-19).

Other signs and symptoms to prompt contact to your GP practice if experienced for three weeks or more include:

  • Unexplained weight loss;
  • Feeling tired and unwell and not sure why
  • Heartburn or indigestion
  • Unusual, pale or greasy poo