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The HSE National Cancer Control Programme (NCCP) is today urging anyone with potential signs and symptoms of cancer to telephone their GP to check them out. The number of patients being referred to cancer diagnostic services has decreased since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic which is a cause of concern for the NCCP as it indicates that people with symptoms of cancer are delaying seeking medical advice.

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However, GP and hospital diagnostic cancer services are continuing to operate. Services have been re-organised and precautionary measures taken to ensure surgeries and hospital environments are safe for patients. All healthcare staff have been trained and equipped to help prevent the spread of Covid-19.

The average number of patients with suspected breast, lung, prostate and skin cancer being referred weekly to hospital clinics has dropped to less than half of that prior to the announcement of Covid-19 public health measures. These are patients who are referred electronically by their GPs.

While there has been a slight increase in the number of people being referred in this past week, the NCCP is concerned that people with signs and symptoms of cancer are not contacting their GPs as they may be fearful of attending healthcare services.

Early diagnosis can improve cancer outcomes. The NCCP is advising the public to telephone their GP if they notice any of the following:

  • a new lump or bump
  • a changing lump or bump
  • abnormal bleeding
  • changes on your skin
  • unexpected weight loss
  • they are constantly tired.

Dr Una Kennedy, GP Advisor, HSE National Cancer Control Programme said:

“In the last four weeks I have referred just one patient with symptoms that were concerning for cancer, with a lump in her breast. She was seen quickly at the hospital and discharged with the good news that all was well. Normally, I could expect to see at least one person per week with symptoms concerning for cancer. Since the Covid-19 outbreak, the number of patients contacting my practice has declined markedly. I’ve spoken with colleagues and many of them have noticed this too. It’s very worrying. The last thing we, as GPs, want is to see out patients’ diagnosis being delayed. People shouldn’t be afraid to contact their GP because of Covid-19. If you have cancer, the sooner it’s detected the better chance you have of a successful outcome.”

Professor Arnie Hill, Surgical Advisor, HSE National Cancer Control Programme said:

“My colleagues and I are continuing to work during this difficult time. We are checking patients with cancer symptoms in hospitals throughout Ireland. If you, or a family member, are experiencing symptoms that might be cancer, call your GP. Your GP will assess you and can make a referral for you to our services if needed. We are here, regardless of coronavirus to take care of you.”

The strong message from the NCCP is that GP clinics are open and seeing patients. Your GP wants to hear from you if you have any concerns. Many problems can be resolved over the phone and some GPs are using videoconferencing facilities. They are also continuing to see patients that they need to see in their surgeries. They can refer you on to cancer diagnostic services if needed and you will be seen there by staff prepared to prevent the spread of coronavirus. In order to ensure patient safety and implement precautionary public health measures against Covid-19, some hospital services are changing to meet these requirements. The HSE acknowledges that this can be difficult for patients but it is doing so in the best interest of patient safety.

The National Cancer Control Programme has developed a video urging people with signs and symptoms of cancer to telephone their GP and have them checked out. Follow @HSELive on Twitter #ItsInOurHands #COVID19 for updates.


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