People who have noticed an unusual or persistent symptom like a lump, bleeding, weight loss or pain that can’t be explained during the pandemic are being urged to see their GPs.
It comes as a survey by Cancer Research UK found more than half (53%) of GPs say they are concerned fewer older adults are contacting them with symptoms compared to before the pandemic.
Other groups they were worried about hearing less from included patients with learning difficulties (40%), those whose first language is not English (35%), people from poorer backgrounds (23%), ethnic minorities (22%) and those with existing health conditions (21%).
Dr Richard Roope, Cancer Research UK’s GP advisor, said GP surgeries and hospitals are changing the way they do things to keep patients and staff safe – and people should be reassured it’s safe to visit them. The first contact is likely to be by phone, and where appropriate, a face-to-face appointment will follow.
“If you’ve noticed an unusual or persistent symptom like a lump, bleeding, weight loss or pain you can’t explain, tell your doctor, we do want to hear from you,” said Dr Roope.
“In most cases it won’t be cancer, but if it is, catching it early gives the best chance of successful treatment. For those who’ve been unable to get through to your surgery, I would encourage you to keep trying.”
The findings come from a September survey of 1,000 UK GPs who were asked to compare their experience to before the pandemic.
While some progress has been made since the first monthly survey in June, with fewer GPs reporting reductions in the number of patients contacting them (62% in June compared to 29% in September), GPs are still concerned some groups may not be coming forward to get the help they need.
That’s not to say it’s easy getting an appointment, however – some patients told Cancer Research UK they’ve faced difficulties making one.
Age is the biggest risk factor for cancer and every year more than a third (36%) of all cancer cases in the UK are diagnosed in people aged 75 and over. The earlier cancer is diagnosed, however, the better the chance of survival.
Covid-19 is making cancer diagnosis more challenging, and progress to see fewer patients diagnosed late is likely to be held up.
The pandemic has had a huge impact on cancer services across the board. Patients have faced delays and altered modes of screening, diagnosis, and treatment, as well as disrupted follow-up and palliative care.
Michelle Mitchell, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, said the government needs to act now to help cancer patients. “With a backlog of patients to get through, the NHS needs the support of government now more than ever, so that people can get the care they need,” she said.
“The upcoming spending review is the perfect opportunity for the government to act and provide the equipment and staff required.”
A Department of Health and Social Care Spokesperson told HuffPost UK: “Cancer diagnosis and treatment has remained a priority throughout the pandemic – more than 200,000 people were treated for cancer during the first peak – and we continue to urge people to come forward if they have symptoms.
“The NHS treated two non-Covid patients for every one Covid patient during the first wave of the pandemic and more than 870,000 people were referred for cancer checks between March and August.”
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.