Don’t be afraid to get possible cancer symptoms checked and treated

20 April 2021

A cancer patient who was diagnosed during the first lockdown and has now had her cancer successfully removed echoes NHS advice to get worrying symptoms checked out as soon as possible.

Miriam McGuirk (pictured top right), from Romney Marsh, Kent, urged others not to hesitate to see their GP if they noticed anything unusual. She added that during her recent experience, she was cared for safely, quickly and with empathy. She said she felt safe attending her GP practice and hospitals for tests and treatment throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.

Miriam said: “I knew something was amiss, and then the lump felt more prominent and became painful. I realised that I couldn’t leave it. I would say to anyone who notices anything – do not hesitate to get it checked out, it is better sooner rather than later. You will be looked after and cared for.”

Video: Cancer patient Miriam McGuirk gives her advice to anyone who notices any worrying symptoms

It is also important that patients continue with any ongoing treatments, such as routine endoscopy, and follow the advice of their clinician and hospital to help keep themselves safe while accessing care.

Early diagnosis is so important

Dr Tina George, a GP and Clinical Lead for Early Diagnosis with the Kent and Medway Cancer Alliance, emphasised that early diagnosis could save your life.

She said: “Catching a cancer in its early stages can, in some cases, be the difference between whether it is treatable or not. It may not be anything serious, but it is better to get it checked out.

 “We have introduced a range of measures to ensure the safety of patients, including making GP practices Covid-secure and offering phone and digital appointments where clinically appropriate. Please do not hesitate to make an appointment to see us if you have any symptoms of concern – we will not think that you are wasting our time.”

What symptoms should I look out for?

Symptoms that could be a sign of cancer include (but are not limited to):

  • unexplained blood that doesn’t come from an obvious injury (such as blood in your poo or pee),
  • an unexplained lump
  • weight loss which feels significant to you
  • an unexplained, persistent pain
  • for abdominal cancers, signs  sometimes include; persistent diarrhoea, bloating and discomfort in the tummy

Many people with the above symptoms will not have cancer but it is always worth discussing this with your GP.

Afraid to seek help 

In a survey of 2,178 people last year, the NHS found that almost half (48%) would delay or not seek medical help at all because of Covid-19. A fifth (22%) did not want to burden the NHS and a similar number said fear of getting coronavirus or passing it onto others was a major reason for not seeking help.

However, from March to September 2020, more than 38,300 people across Kent and Medway were urgently referred; over 96% of them were subsequently seen by a specialist within two weeks. Cancer treatment levels were maintained at over 81% of 2019 levels during the height of the pandemic– showing that the NHS is there for people when they need it.

Patient safety a priority

Dr Henry Taylor, a Clinical Oncologist at the Kent Oncology Centre, Maidstone, and Clinical Lead for the Kent and Medway Cancer Alliance, said: “Patient safety is a priority. We have introduced a range of measures, including Covid-secure wards and Covid-protected cancer surgical services, to ensure that we can continue to give quality care to cancer patients when they need it. Patients should not be afraid to use the NHS, we are still here for you.”

Video: Dr Henry Taylor explains the Covid-safe measures in place to protect patients using cancer services in Kent and Medway

It was during the first full Covid-19 lockdown in spring 2020 that Miriam first noticed a lump in her breast.

“I did nothing for five or six weeks because I knew the NHS was so busy with Covid, but something wasn’t right and the bottom line was, I knew I had to have it checked out,” she said.

“I hesitated because of Covid but cancer can spread so quickly. I felt relieved to be referred for treatment without delay.”

After speaking with her GP on 18 May 2020, Miriam was referred to a specialist and she went for tests – a mammogram, scan and biopsy - at the William Harvey Hospital in Ashford on 28 May. Following this, she had an appointment with her consultant on 12 June at Kent and Canterbury Hospital, and the operation to remove the tumour was successfully carried out on 30 June.

Miriam said: “Of course, I was nervous, I did not know what to expect, but I realised that whatever the outcome, I was in good hands. Everyone reassured me I would come through it and I would be OK.”

To ensure cancer patients continue to get the care they need during the pandemic, hospitals introduced a range of safety measures to protect patients and staff from the risks and challenges posed by Covid-19. 

Miriam felt comforted by these measures. “In my cancer journey, I was always wearing a mask and the clinicians were too. As soon as I walked in, my temperature was taken and we were sanitising our hands. With clear maps on the floor of each area, I found directions easy to follow to where I needed to go. Screens were in place at reception desks too. The specific departments I visited, were spotlessly clean. Also, with every appointment with every health professional, I noticed that everyone was distanced from each other. So, I didn’t worry about safety around Covid at all.”

Miriam adds her voice to the NHS campaign to encourage people to contact their GP as soon as possible if they notice any worrying symptoms which could be cancer.

She said: “I would urge anyone who has any kind of lump or abnormality, don’t be afraid to take that first step because whatever the outcome, you can’t leave it. Don’t think your worries and anxieties are not important, because they are.”

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