People are being urged to contact their GP if they have concerning symptoms rather than letting the fear of a cancer diagnosis stop them getting help.
In a new media campaign, NHS leaders and cancer charities are urging people not to delay vital checks, saying the disease is much more treatable in the early stages.
Some nine out of 10 people who have symptoms checked do not end up having cancer, but experts say it is is far better to know the truth so treatment can start if needed.
It’s always better to get checked than delayHealth Secretary Sajid Javid
Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid said: “Having lost my father to cancer, I know how worrying the prospect of a cancer diagnosis can be for people and their families.
“We want to tackle these fears head on and the message of this campaign is clear – it’s always better to get checked than delay.”
Launching the campaign for NHS England, chief executive Amanda 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 two 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.”
The fear of cancer is completely understandable but please don’t let worries... prevent you from coming forwardNHS cancer director Dame Cally Palmer
NHS cancer director Dame Cally Palmer added: “The fear of cancer is completely understandable but please don’t let worries and concerns about treatment or potentially bad news prevent you from coming forward.”
The NHS Long Term Plan commits to increasing the number of cancers detected at an early stage from half to three-quarters by 2028.
A new poll of 2,000 people for the campaign found 56% felt that a cancer diagnosis was their biggest health fear, above other illnesses including heart disease and Covid-19.
Almost two-thirds (63%) of those surveyed said dying was their biggest cancer fear, with more than one in three (37%) worried about being a burden on family and friends and 36% worried about the impact of chemotherapy or other treatments.
While the majority of people know catching cancer earlier makes it more treatable, 42% 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.
We’ve spoken to a lot of people who’ve noticed changes to their health but weren’t sure what to do, or needed help with the next stepsDr Ian Walker, Cancer Research UK
Dr Ian Walker, director of policy, information and communication at Cancer Research UK, said: “Sometimes a little bit of concern or fear about our health can prompt us into action, but it’s vital that this fear doesn’t get to a level that stops us picking up the phone or walking into the surgery.
“We’ve spoken to a lot of people who’ve noticed changes to their health but weren’t sure what to do, or needed help with the next steps.
“We encourage anyone in this situation to get in touch with their GP practice.”
The NHS is encouraging people to contact their GP if they have stomach discomfort or diarrhoea for three weeks or more; blood in their urine; unexplained bleeding; unexplained pain that lasts for three weeks or longer; lumps; or a cough that lasts three weeks or more that is not Covid-19.
Other signs and symptoms that need GP attention include unexplained weight loss; feeling tired and unwell but not sure why; heartburn or indigestion; or unusual, pale or greasy stools.