Health

Six cancer warning signs you should never ignore

Treatments have come a long way - but some forms of cancer are still much harder to overcome. Lisa Salmon finds out more

It is vital to be aware of the signs of 'less survivable' cancers as early diagnosis improves survival rates

ALTHOUGH half of people will get cancer at some point in their lives, over the past 40 years, survival rates have doubled. Back in the 1970s, just a quarter of people survived the disease for 10 years or more, but today around half survive.

However, this still varies greatly depending on the type of cancer and how quickly it's diagnosed. Cancer Research UK (CRUK) says survival ranges from 98 per cent for testicular cancer to just 1 per cent for pancreatic cancer. In fact, a quarter of cancers - known as the 'less survivable cancers' - have an average five-year survival rate of just 16 per cent.

To draw attention to this, January 11 marked the first ever Less Survivable Cancers Awareness Day, with the aim of highlighting the critical importance of early diagnosis in improving survival and quality of life for people with six 'less survivable cancers' - lung, liver, brain, oesophageal, pancreatic and stomach.

The Less Survivable Cancers Taskforce (LSCT) says these cancers are diagnosed in more than 80,000 people in the UK every year and are responsible for nearly half of all common cancer deaths.

The LSCT, which has been formed by charities supporting patients with these cancers, says a major part of the reason these cancers have lower survival rates is that they're generally more difficult to diagnose.

People who have a less survivable cancer are twice as likely not to be diagnosed until their symptoms are severe enough to go to hospital, compared to someone with a more survivable cancer.

"Early diagnosis can make an enormous difference to life expectancy for people with less survivable cancers, so it's crucial everyone is aware of the symptoms and that they seek medical help as soon as possible if they have any concerns," stresses Anna Jewell, chair of the LSCT.

Dr Rachel Orritt, health information manager at CRUK, adds: "Cancer has lots of different possible symptoms, which is why it's important to get your doctor's advice if you notice anything that's not normal for you.

"It probably won't be cancer. But if it is, spotting it early means treatment is more likely to be successful.

"This is a very difficult time for the NHS, but this shouldn't put people off seeking help if they've noticed something unusual or are worried they might have cancer. If it's difficult getting through to a GP practice or getting an appointment, keep trying. An earlier diagnosis can make all the difference."

The LSCT warns there may be few early symptoms of the less survivable cancers, which have limited or non-existent screening programmes, and it says most people are unaware of common warning signs - research the taskforce did last year found awareness of the symptoms of the deadliest cancers was as low as 4 per cent.

"We know that delays in diagnosis lead to much poorer outcomes for patients with these rapidly-advancing cancers," says Jewell.

"These cancers are currently difficult or impossible to treat at later stages, and the time from diagnosis to death is often brutally short compared to more survivable cancers. We're urging everyone to be aware of the symptoms of these deadly cancers and to seek medical help at the earliest opportunity if they recognise any of the signs."

So, what are the warning signs of less survivable cancers? Remember, these things don't automatically mean you have cancer and may be caused by a range of things. But for peace of mind and to ensure any problems are picked up early, it's always best to get these possible warning signs checked out urgently...

::Brain: Vision and speech problems, headaches, nausea, vomiting, seizures, and mental or behavioural changes.

::Liver: Unexpected weight loss, loss of appetite, feeling and being sick, pain or swelling in your abdomen, jaundice, itchy skin, tiredness, fever, vomiting blood, and dark urine.

::Lung: A persistent cough, coughing up blood, chest pain, unexpected weight loss, loss of appetite, shortness of breath, feeling tired or weak.

::Oesophageal: Difficulty swallowing, indigestion or heartburn, loss of appetite, vomiting, stomach, chest or back pain, a persistent cough, hoarseness, tiredness and shortness of breath.

::Pancreatic: Pain in the back or stomach, loss of appetite, unexpected weight loss, yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes (jaundice), indigestion, changes in bowel habits.

::Stomach: Indigestion that doesn't go away, trapped wind, heartburn, feeling bloated or full very quickly when eating small amounts, feeling or being sick, tummy pain or pain behind the breastbone, difficulty swallowing, unexpected weight loss.

::More information at lesssurvivablecancers.org.uk

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