"Cancer is working from home"

26 May 2020
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‘Cancer is working from home’ reads a powerful billboard glowing brightly in Piccadilly Circus. The message is from charity Ovarian Cancer Action in reaction to the devastating news that cancer referrals have dropped by 75% due to COVID-19. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has seen our lives suddenly halted; containing our social, personal and professional lives within four walls. But cancer doesn’t stop just because we’re all stuck at home, says Ovarian Cancer Action, who are stressing that lockdown shouldn’t get in the way of a visit to the GP if someone is displaying symptoms of ovarian cancer.

The charity has estimated at least an extra 35,000 people will die of cancer due to COVID-19 and is particularly concerned that women with ovarian cancer will be affected. A worrying 90% of women are unable to name the four main symptoms of the disease, which can commonly be associated with less serious conditions such as IBS. 

Bloating, abdominal pain, needing to wee more and loss of appetite are the four main symptoms of ovarian cancer. Other symptoms might also include: back pain, changes in bowel habits (going more often or a lot less), and extreme tiredness for no obvious reason. 

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The earlier a person is diagnosed with cancer, the better their chance of survival. Women diagnosed with ovarian cancer at stage 1 have a 93% survival rate, compared to 13% at stage 4. However according to the NHS, four in ten people are too concerned about being a burden to seek help from their GP, hence the charity taking drastic action.

Charity Chief Executive Cary Wakefield, said: “Whilst many of us are working from home to avoid the spread of COVID-19, cancer is going undetected. If you are experiencing unusual symptoms, your GP wants to see you. And let us be clear, you are not a burden. Catching cancer early actually helps the NHS and even more importantly, an early cancer diagnosis can save your life.”

Professor Sudha Sundar, President British Gynaecological Cancer Society, said: “GPs and hospitals are still 'open for business’ so do not be put off contacting your doctor if you are experiencing unusual symptoms. GP practices may not be able to see you face-to-face; many are trying to keep patients and staff safe by doing telephone and video consultations. Hospitals have been organising services so that we can still see you, if you need to. Please don’t sit on anything, if you are worried, call your doctor today.” 

Kimberley Ramsay was diagnosed with stage 1 ovarian cancer in February. She said: “I never thought it would be cancer. My clothes had stopped fitting almost overnight. I started to need to wee urgently and experienced pain when I was exercising. If it wasn’t for my mum insisting that I phone the GP and my boyfriend Ryan actually dialling the number or my sister-in-law insisting on coming with me, I’d never have been diagnosed and treated so quickly.

“Cancer doesn’t stop during a pandemic, and fewer people are being diagnosed than ever now or not wanting to go their GP if they have symptoms so please, be aware of the symptoms and if you have them or hear anyone complaining about having any of them, go to your GP as it might save a life.” 

Unlike cervical, bowel and breast cancers, there is still no reliable, effective screening method for ovarian cancer. Ovarian Cancer Action is funding research into prevention, early detection and better treatment of the disease. Find out more here.