In recent weeks, the number of people in England presenting with cancer symptoms has fallen sharply.
It is estimated that referrals have plummeted 75 per cent, leading to fears that people displaying new symptoms may not be seeking medical advice due to the ongoing pandemic.
Reasons for this include fear of catching the virus, giving it to family members, and becoming a burden on the health service, according to a recent NHS England survey.
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So what should you do if you display cancer symptoms during lockdown, is it ok to visit a GP, and what help is available?
What should I do if I display cancer symptoms during lockdown?
The ongoing lockdown is an anxious time for all of us, particularly those who have health concerns.
It is important to remember to seek medical advice if you notice a change that isn’t normal for you, or if you have any possible symptoms of cancer.
The symptoms may not be cancer. But if they are, treatment is much more effective when cancer is picked up early.
“But you should still contact your doctor if you’re worried about signs and symptoms or notice a change that isn’t normal for you.”
If I display cancer symptoms during lockdown, is it OK to contact my doctor?
People displaying new cancer symptoms are being urged to contact their GP to seek further medical advice.
Due to the ongoing pandemic, doctors are now talking to people over the phone and online to reduce the risk of the virus for themselves and their patients.
“NHS staff have made huge efforts to deal with coronavirus but they are also working hard to ensure that patients can safely access essential services such as cancer checks and urgent surgery,” says Professor Peter Johnson, NHS national clinical director for cancer.
“From online consultations to the roll-out of cancer treatment hubs we are doing all we can to make sure patients receive the life-saving care that they need.”
Official NHS guidance on what to do if you experience cancer symptoms is clear: “Simply, use and contact the NHS as you normally would,” a spokesperson for NHS England told The Independent.
“Safeguard your own health and get any concerns checked out. Not diagnosing and treating many cancers fast makes treatment harder and can reduce the chance of survival.”
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What happens if my GP suspects that I might have cancer?
Despite the ongoing lockdown, GPs still have the power to make urgent referrals to specialists if they suspect you might have cancer.
If your GP does refer you to a specialist, you should be contacted by the hospital responsible for carrying out your tests.
“Your first appointment might be a telephone appointment with the specialist doctor,” according to Cancer Research UK guidance. “Hospital teams might need to prioritise tests and appointments so they can see those most in need.”
Hospitals then base any decisions on the symptoms people have and the risk of them being cancer. They will also talk to you about the possible risks of delaying a test until the risks of the pandemic have passed.
“In most cases it won’t be cancer, but let your doctor decide as then your case will be tracked and if you do receive a cancer diagnosis, then you will receive treatment as soon as it’s safe to go ahead,” adds Ms Mitchell.
“The earlier a cancer is diagnosed, the more likely it is [that] treatment will be successful and the higher the chance of survival. So even in these stressful times… its vital people don’t delay seeking help with cancer symptoms.”
I have already been diagnosed with cancer. Will my treatment go ahead?
“Your doctors will aim to continue with your treatment wherever possible. But they might need to change your treatment or prioritise certain treatments over others,” Cancer Research UK adds
“Talk to your health care team about the effect of the coronavirus outbreak on your treatment plan. They know about your individual situation and will try to work with you to find the best plan for you.”
On Thursday, NHS officials issued guidance for all hospitals stating that cancer treatment should go ahead during the pandemic.
“As you know, we are clear that the NHS must ensure that cancer diagnosis, treatment and care continues during the response to the covid-19 emergency,” the guidance states.
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