Worried you may have cancer?

Thursday 30 April 2020

Writing a blog during a pandemic is probably a first for me. 

Normal life as we know it, for many of us, is in some sort of limbo. It’s an unsettling time – and it can sometimes feel like the coronavirus (COVID-19), is taking all the headlines.

Ticking away in the background, has been the increasing concern that people are going to their doctor less and less – and this includes for the bigger health issues such as a possible cancer.  

There has been a reduction of more than 70% in GP urgent referrals to hospital specialists in the last few weeks. 

These are referrals made by your GP, when there are symptoms which could possibly be because of cancer. 

To get things in perspective, many of the urgent referrals will prove to be not cancer, on further investigation. 

However, early detection and treatment of cancer is generally a good thing.

Cancer worries?

You or someone you care about may be worried about the possibility of having cancer. 

It may be that you’ve developed signs or symptoms which concern you, or that you know something is not quite right.

Sometimes we tell ourselves that the changes are minor, or that they will settle down.  \

Trying to get a doctor’s appointment can sometimes take time.  

It can feel a particular ‘faff’ trying to organise a conversation with your GP, during the coronavirus crisis. 

It’s tempting to think you won’t bother the doctor at a time like this. 

You may be other priorities like work, college, or a hectic home schooling schedule. 

Financial worries may feel more pressing than health issues. It's easy to put things off.

What can I do?

It can help to know how your body is normally, checking out for lumps, attending regular screening and keeping yourself in good health.  You’re then likely to note any changes quickly.

Sometimes other health conditions that you are living with, can cause similar symptoms to cancer, and you may put worsening problems down to previous health issues. However if a symptom is new, or getting worse, is unexplained, or impacts on your life in any way - it’s time to make a GP appointment.  If it is cancer, picking it up early often means it can be treated successfully.

Signs and symptoms of cancer

There are a range of signs and symptoms that can sometimes be caused by cancer.  Some are better known than others. Sometimes it may be a combination of symptoms that are adding together to cause you concern.If you have any of following signs and symptoms, then do contact your GP.  Whilst often these symptoms may not be cancer related, your GP is in a position to investigate further, and refer you to a specialist.

Breast changes - a lump, or change in shape of the breast, itching/redness, puckering or indentation.

Change in bowel habits - this could include passing blood/mucus with your stools (poo),  looser stools, or periods of constipation.

Shortness of breath - it’s natural to be out of breath when exerting yourself or exercising, but if you notice you’re getting out of breath more easily, or on minimal effort, then discuss it with your doctor.

Unexplained weight loss - a small amount of weight fluctuation is normal, but if you’re losing significant amounts of weight without trying, it’s time to see your doctor.

Difficulty in swallowing -  finding it hard to swallow food or fluids, or have a feeling of indigestion or food  ‘getting stuck’ in your oesophagus (food pipe).

Tummy/abdomen bloating - if you feel bloated and uncomfortable most days, and these symptoms are new to you.

Problems passing urine (wee) - passing blood when you pass urine needs to be checked out. Other signs to report are pain when passing urine, or a slow or trickling stream when you do go to the toilet. Often these can be symptoms of something less serious, but the doctor can explore your symptoms further.

A persistent cough that has lasted for some weeks -  a cough that isn't clearing up, after a cold or perhaps with no cold symptoms. ( At the time of writing, some symptoms may be like the coronavirus, so would need investigating quickly anyway).

A new mole or changes to an existing mole - if it’s itchy, darker, irregular in shape, or is concerning you in any way, it needs checking out.

Night sweats - significant sweating at night, drenching the bed and your nightclothes, may be medication related, an infection, or caused by hormonal changes such as the menopause. However, it can also be a sign of cancer.

New lumps or swellings - this could be in your axilla (armpit), groin, testicle, breast, neck or elsewhere in your body.

Any new or unexplained pain - this could be any unexplained pain that is causing you discomfort, particularly if it is not going away - whether it’s constant or comes and goes.

Vaginal bleeding – which includes bleeding or spotting between periods, or after the menopause, or after sexual activity.

Whilst these are the main symptoms to look out for, there may be other bodily changes, signs or symptoms you may have noticed. If it’s new to you, doesn’t feel right, is causing you problems or of concern then contact your doctor.

How can Maggie’s help?

The worry about a possible cancer, either because you have symptoms, or you’re waiting for a referral to hospital, can feel a real concern. It stirs up fears, maybe a bit of panic, and anxiety.  These feelings are natural, but it can help to discuss your worries with someone. 

During the current COVID-19 ‘lockdown’ period…normal support systems can feel reduced.  If you do feel you’d like to talk to someone, you can message us here at Maggie’s Online Community, call us on 0300 123 1801 or email: enquiries@maggies.org.

We can also provide information, benefits advice, and a listening ear…

Warm wishes


Useful links

Coronavirus guidance for people worried they have cancer   Macmillan Cancer Support

Key signs and symptoms of cancer       Cancer Research UK

Seeing the doctor                 Cancer Research UK

How quickly can I see a GP       NHS.UK

Signs and symptoms of cancer    Macmillan Cancer Support

Going to the general practitioner       Cancer of Unknown Primary Foundation

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