The NHS in London is taking part in a cancer awareness campaign that is the first to focus on tackling the fear of cancer, rather than specific symptoms.
New research shows that nearly six in 10 people (56%) nationally, say a cancer diagnosis is their biggest health fear, above other illnesses including heart disease and COVID-19.
In London, 47% of those who responded said cancer is the top health condition they are afraid of, yet 29% said they wouldn’t want to find out bad news or waste NHS time. 75% said they understand that catching cancer early makes it more treatable. However there are still 18% of the capital’s population who would not go to the GP if they noticed a serious bodily change.
The NHS Long Term Plan committed to increasing the number of cancers detected at an early stage one or two from half to three quarters by 2028. NHS staff have been checking record numbers of people for cancer. Latest figures show that the number of people getting checked for cancer increased by over half a million (512,110) in one year between December 2020 and December 2021.
Olympic coach and British Milers Club ‘Coach of the Year’, Phil Kissi MBE, was diagnosed at 49 with prostate cancer in 2006. Phil, now 64, from London, who has since recovered from prostate cancer, said:
“I was watching a TV programme that said Black men were at higher risk of prostate cancer. Although I didn’t have any symptoms, I had a feeling that something wasn’t right.
“My diagnosis changed my perspective on life, and I re-evaluated what was important to me. After my surgery, I decided to go into athletic training and help young people who might not have had the chance to fulfil their potential otherwise.
“If you’re worried about cancer, contact your GP practice. It’s probably nothing serious but even if it is, getting your diagnosis earlier can give you more treatment options and ultimately, a better chance of success”.
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 over another third (36%) worried about the impact of chemotherapy or other treatments. While the majority of people knew catching cancer earlier makes it more treatable, over two fifths (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.
Launching officially on Wednesday, a new advert will show 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.
NHS bosses and cancer charities are urging people not to delay “lifesaving” checks, highlighting nine in ten 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.
NHS 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”.
NHS clinical director for cancer, Professor Peter Johnson, said: “A key part of this new campaign is encouraging people to be aware of any changes in their body, and not to hold back from getting them checked.
“Most people who come forward and get tested for cancer find out they don’t have it, but whatever the result, the NHS wants you to know that we are here for you and finding out sooner is always better.
“It might be nothing at all, it might be something else the NHS can help you with, but if it is cancer then finding it early makes it much more treatable, and it could save your life”.