Cancer Research Wales is mobilising the largest awareness campaign in the charity’s history to drive home its ‘Get Checked’ message – on the basis that cancer won’t wait for the pandemic to pass.
The Wales-wide ‘Get Checked’ campaign, a collaboration between Cancer Research Wales, Bristol Myers Squibb and the Wales Cancer Network, launches today, and is expected to be seen by every adult living in Wales.
The importance of the ‘Get Checked’ message cannot be underestimated as research shows that between March 2020 and August 2020, Welsh GPs made in the region of 18,200* fewer urgent referrals for suspected cancer.
A year on, fewer patients are being treated for cancer, than before the pandemic started**.
The earlier a cancer is diagnosed, the better the chance of treating it successfully. However, Cancer Research Wales predicts that the pandemic, and the response it triggered, will have an impact on the treatment and survival rates of people with cancer.
The charity wants to use the campaign to overcome people’s reluctance to speak to their GP. Cancer Research Wales’ priority throughout the campaign is to reach 50 to 70-year-olds – the age group most prone to cancer, but least likely to visit the doctor – who have experienced unexpected, concerning changes to their body in recent months but have not approached their GP.
It is anticipated that the charity’s hard-hitting message, ‘Cancer won’t wait, and neither should you’, will also attract the attention of family members who are concerned about the health of loved ones.
The eight-week campaign, which coincides with the gradual lifting of coronavirus restrictions in Wales and the nationwide mass vaccination programme, challenges people to take changes to their body seriously and make an appointment to see their GP.
The campaign is asking people to bring to the attention of their GP symptoms most often associated with cancer, such as a lump in the breast, persistent coughing over several weeks, chest pain, breathlessness, changes in bowel habits, unexplained bleeding, changes to skin moles and unexplained weight loss.
Ann Tate, Chief Executive of Cancer Research Wales, said:
“We share the concerns of other cancer charities, cancer services and clinicians across Wales that it is highly likely there are a significant number of people with undiagnosed cancer. Diagnosing cancer later contributes to poorer outcomes for everyone affected.
“During the start of the COVID-19 pandemic we were told to “stay home, protect the NHS and save lives”. An essential message at the time, but one that contributed to fewer people speaking to their GP with unexpected changes to their body.
“With the support of the Wales Cancer Network and Bristol Myers Squibb, Cancer Research Wales has produced the “Get Checked” cancer awareness campaign. We want to reassure people that their feelings are understandable but need to be set to one side in order to get the advice, care and support they need as soon as possible.
“It’s probably nothing, but if people feel something isn’t right they need to call their GP and make the necessary arrangements to get it checked.
“If your GP thinks you need tests or treatment at your local hospital, please attend these appointments. The NHS has worked extremely hard to make these as a safe as possible.”
Professor Tom Crosby, National Cancer Clinical Director for Wales at the Wales Cancer Network, said:
“As clinicians (multi-professional specialist staff working in primary care and hospital diagnostic and treatment services), we in the Wales Cancer Network urge anyone with any symptoms or changes that are worrying them not to hesitate contacting their GP.
“We know that lots of people are worried about bothering their GP, especially now with the pressures that Covid is putting on the health system, but I want to be very clear that their GPs want to hear from them.
“We also are aware that patients are concerned about the safety of hospital services. Our cancer services, including screening, have worked tirelessly to ensure people’s safety if they have to come in for tests, so please attend for tests and treatment if you are asked to do so.
“With cancer, timing is critical. The sooner people get their symptoms checked the sooner we can either put their mind at rest or get them the treatment and support they need.”
Vaughan Gething, Welsh Government Minister for Health and Social Services, said:
“Essential services, such as cancer investigation and treatment, have not stopped due to the pandemic. Although some services have been disrupted, it is as vital as ever that people with symptoms of cancer come forward and that people who are being treated for cancer attend their appointments. I would also encourage people to attend for their screening appointments when invited. I know this is a worrying time for people but please seek help when needed.”
The ‘Get Checked’ campaign will run bilingually until the middle of May and will be featured on Welsh TV and radio stations, a range of digital platforms, and social media channels. It will also feature on Cancer Research Wales posters and leaflets.
Anyone affected by cancer and seeking advice or support should visit the Wales Cancer Alliance website, which includes a support services directory and a mass of useful information – www.walescanceralliance.org/support
More information on the ‘Get Checked’ campaign can be found at www.GetChecked.Wales
* In November 2020, the Senedd’s Cross Party Group on Cancer reported that from March 2020 to August 2020, there were around 18,200 fewer urgent referrals for suspected cancer from GPs in Wales. Not all of these referrals will lead to a cancer diagnosis.
** In February 2021, the BBC reported that around 3,500 people are “missing” from treatment services since the start of the pandemic, compared to previous years.