CANCER is the second leading cause of death globally and claims the lives of around 165,000 Brits every year.
Yet cancer referrals in England have plunged by nearly 50 per cent and delays for treatment have reached record highs.
Experts now fear there could be thousands of extra lives lost to the disease as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
Although the NHS treated 85,000 people for cancer during the crisis, routine screening for breast, bowel and cervical cancer were paused while medics battled Covid-19.
And though services are beginning to resume, many people are still afraid to see their GP about their concerns.
Figures show that almost half of the public have said they had concerns seeking help in the midst of the outbreak, and one in 10 reported that they wouldn’t contact their GP even if they had a lump or a new mole.
As the country faces its next health crisis, celebrities with cancer – including Sun columnist Deborah James – have joined NHS doctors to urge Brits to see their GP for vital, life-saving checks.
That’s because spotting cancer early saves lives – and the best way to do that is to know the signs.
Mum-of-two Deborah James, 38, who shares her experiences both on Instagram and in her Sun column Things Cancer Made Me Say, was diagnosed with incurable bowel cancer three years ago.
She said: “While coronavirus is the new big C in everyone’s lives, it doesn’t stop cancer killing people too.
“It’s still a threat and not just for those who are already diagnosed – you must check yourself for symptoms.
“For anyone who is worried about having their treatment during this time, the NHS is still there for people like me and you – it might look slightly different but the staff and the care remain the same.”
BBC newsreader Bill Turnbull revealed he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2018, which led to a 36 per cent jump in referrals.
It’s now the most common cancer in the UK and Bill is urging people to seek help if they feel something isn’t right.
“Cancer is a cruel disease and unfortunately it did not disappear during the coronavirus outbreak,” he said.
“We know that it’s all too easy to put something like this off, but please do contact the NHS if you have any signs of cancer.”
Earlier this month, sisters Linda and Anne Nolan, who performed together in the iconic Irish girl group The Nolans, revealed that they were diagnosed with cancer within days of each other.
Linda, who is currently receiving chemotherapy for liver cancer at Blackpool Victoria Hospital, said that “it might feel daunting” but assured people that NHS staff are continuing to provide vital care.
Linda said: “The care I have received has been nothing short of exceptional, and I know people up and down the country have had similar experiences of the heroic work the NHS and staff are doing to continue to deliver the vital care we all need, even as they deal with the ongoing pandemic.
“So whilst it might seem daunting, it’s important people know they can feel absolutely safe in the hands of the NHS going in for treatments.”
Hospitals have put extensive measures in place so that patients can get safely tested and treated, including rolling out Covid protected hubs across the country and introducing treatment swaps that require fewer trips to hospital and have less of an effect on cancer patients’ immune systems.
If there is care or a treatment you need, don’t delay, and contact your GP
Linda added: “If there is care or a treatment you need, don’t delay, and contact your GP or NHS 111 to ask about any symptoms. It’s so important people get checked out when they need to, cancer doesn’t wait, and timing is everything. It might be the very thing that makes all the difference.”
The call to get checked follows a sharp drop in the number of people coming forward, with 141,643 referred in June compared to almost 200,000 during the same period last year.
Professor Peter Johnson, NHS clinical director for cancer, said: “We cannot let Covid become a reason for people not to get checked for cancer.
“NHS staff up and down the country have worked very hard to make sure that tests and treatment can go ahead quickly and safely.
“Cancers are detected earlier and lives are saved if more people are referred for checks so our message to you is to come forward – it could save your life.”