The NHS has launched a new, innovative campaign intended to promote the early detection of cancer

moodboard doctor patient serious cancer

NHS Chief Executive Amanda Pritchard has announced a new, innovative campaign intended to promote the early detection of cancer, running across TV, radio, and social media from 2 March 2022.

The focus of the campaign is on addressing the fear of cancer rather than specific symptoms, the core message being that it is better to get checked out early than delay.

Commitments in the NHS Long Term Plan include an increase in the number of cancers detected early, at stage one or two, from half to three quarters by 2028. 

NHS staff have been assessing record numbers of people for cancer, and this is an attempt to further that progress. Latest figures show that the number of people getting checked for cancer increased by 512,110 between December 2020 and December 2021.

The announcement comes alongside new research, showing that 56% of people consider a cancer diagnosis to be their biggest health fear; 63% of those surveyed said dying was their biggest cancer fear, while 37% worried about being a burden on family and friends and 36% worried about the impact of chemotherapy or other treatments.

As well as this, 42% of people surveyed said they would ignore symptoms, wait to see if anything changed, look for answers online, or speak to family and friends before seeing their GP.

Ms Pritchard said: ‘We know that the prospect of a cancer diagnosis can be daunting for people, and that is exactly why we are launching this potentially lifesaving campaign—we want to allay people’s fear about cancer and encourage them to get checked without delay.

‘We know that many people don’t want to burden or bother anyone with their health concerns, but we would always prefer to see you sooner with a cancer that is easier to treat, than later with one that isn’t.

‘NHS staff have pulled out all the stops to ensure cancer was prioritised throughout the pandemic, with over half a million people starting treatment over the last 2 years and record numbers of people now being referred for checks and tests.

‘So, the NHS is here for you—don’t let cancer play on your mind—get checked without delay.’

Dr Anthony Cunliffe, Clinical Adviser for Primary Care at Macmillan Cancer Support, commented: ‘People might put off seeing their doctor if they’re worried that their symptoms could be cancer—the specially trained nurses and advisors on Macmillan’s support line often hear about the toll a potential cancer diagnosis is taking on their mental health. But, for most people, there’s another explanation for their symptoms.

‘However, we know that early diagnosis of cancer can improve prognoses and save lives, and anyone worried about potential cancer symptoms should contact their GP as soon as possible. Don’t think it’s not important or put it off. Your GP will make time to listen to your concerns.’

The NHS is encouraging people to contact their GP practice if they experience any of the following symptoms:

  • intestinal trouble, such as discomfort or diarrhoea for 3 weeks or more
  • blood in their urine
  • unexpected or unexplained bleeding
  • unexplained pain that lasts 3 weeks or more
  • an unexplained lump
  • a cough for 3 weeks or more (that isn’t COVID-19).

For guidance on the recognition and referral of suspected cancer in primary care patients, see our summary of NICE’s guidance here.

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