Cancer deaths predicted to rise. What to do if you think you've spotted a sign or symptom

·5-min read
Experts are urging people with cancer symptoms to get them checked out. (Getty Images)
Experts are urging people with cancer symptoms to get them checked out. (Getty Images)

Health experts have suggested that more people are dying of cancer and cardiovascular disease due to the impact of the pandemic on the healthcare system and unhealthy habits developed over lockdown.

As reported by The Times, the highest number of excess deaths since the start of the pandemic was recorded last month but fewer than half died from COVID-19.

There were 1,100 deaths above the five-year average and about 300 excess deaths from “other” unattributed causes, with 132 of those from heart disease or stroke and 122 from cancer.

Earlier this year experts also warned that progress in reducing cancer deaths may be under threat.

According to an analysis of NHS England figures by Cancer Research UK, about 38,000 fewer cancer patients began treatment between April 2020 and March 2021, compared with the same period a year earlier.

Meanwhile further research suggested the UK could suffer 10,000 additional deaths from cancer as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

The study, published by University College London, showed 40,000 late diagnoses of cancer due to a lack of emergency referrals by GPs and fewer face-to-face appointments.

The figures come after experts previously warned the coronavirus pandemic in England could result in at least 20% more deaths in people who have been newly diagnosed with cancer.

The research, published by researchers at University College London in collaboration with DATA-CAN: The Health Data Research Hub for Cancer in the UK in April last year, estimates that before the pandemic, about 31,354 newly diagnosed cancer patients would die within a year in England. 

As a result of coronavirus there could be at least 6,270 additional deaths in newly diagnosed cancer patients alone. This number could rise to an estimated 17,915 additional deaths if all people currently living with cancer are taken into account.

Looking at weekly data from cancer centres, the researchers discovered the pandemic had resulted in a 76% reduction in the number of people with suspected cancers being referred by their GP and a 60% decrease in chemotherapy appointments for cancer patients compared to before the coronavirus pandemic began.

Read more: The potential cancer sign that many women are ignoring

Experts advise getting a persistent cough, lasting more than three weeks, checked out. (Getty Images)
Experts advise getting a persistent cough, lasting more than three weeks, checked out. (Getty Images)

Despite the figures, health service officials are concerned people are still not coming forward with cancer-like symptoms.

The NHS recently launched a new campaign, designed to raise awareness of common symptoms of some of the major cancers: abdominal, urological and lung cancers.

The Help Us, Help You campaign comes after research showed 60% of people are still concerned about burdening the NHS further during the pandemic and almost 49% say they would delay seeking treatment.

NHS chief executive Amanda Prichard said: "It's incredibly important that people recognise the common symptoms that can signal a cancer diagnosis - and it's vital that they take action by making an appointment with their GP, that could ultimately save their life."

Read more: How and when to check your breasts

What to do if you have a symptom of cancer

While it is easy to put certain symptoms down to getting older or to a pre-existing condition, experts say it is important to get unusual changes in your health checked out. 

Amanda Finch, health information manager at Cancer Research UK, said: “One in two of us will get cancer in our lifetime, the most common cancer types are breast, bowel, lung and prostate cancer. But there are over 200 different types of cancer, which can all have different signs and symptoms."

She recommends getting used to spotting changes in your body. 

“Instead of worrying about remembering lots of different cancer symptoms, it’s better to be body aware," she says. 

"This means listening to your body, so it’s easier to spot if anything does change and speaking to your doctor. Don’t worry that you might be wasting your doctor’s time, if something’s unusual for you or won’t go away, they will want to hear about it. Talking to your doctor isn’t always easy, but they are there to help.”

Watch: People urged to see GP in cancer campaign.

Some of the most common cancer symptoms

Whilst it is important to note that the majority of people who experience any potential symptoms won’t have cancer, it is still vital to look out for any new or concerning symptoms as early cancer diagnosis can be key.

"Although it's unlikely to be cancer, it's important to speak to a GP so they can investigate," the NHS site explains. "Finding cancer early means it's easier to treat."

If your GP suspects cancer, they'll refer you to a specialist – usually within two weeks.

According to Cancer Research there are over 200 different types of cancer that can cause many different symptoms, but in terms of general changes to look out for the NHS recommends:

It is important to look out for changes in bowel habits. (Getty Images)
It is important to look out for changes in bowel habits. (Getty Images)

According to the NHS, there are more than 200 different types of cancer, and each is diagnosed and treated in a particular way.

In the UK, the four most common types of cancer are: breast cancer, lung cancer, prostate cancer and bowel cancer. 

Reducing your risk of cancer

The NHS says making some simple changes to your lifestyle, including eating more healthily, taking regular exercise and not smoking can significantly reduce your risk of developing cancer.

The Macmillan Cancer Support website has more information about how a healthy lifestyle can help reduce your chances of developing cancer.

Cancer treatment

Cancer Research general cancer information

Cancer Research signs and symptoms of cancer

Cancer Research: How do I check for cancer?

Find local cancer support services

Find specialist cancer hospitals

The Macmillan Support Line offers free, confidential support to people living with cancer and their loved ones.

Marie Curie has put together a list of cancer support charities. 

Watch: Breast Cancer Awareness Month: 'Over 25 percent of cases are preventable'

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting