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Doctors urge people with symptoms of cancer to make contact after 'worrying' drop in referrals

The last thing GPs want is to see patients have a cancer diagnosis delayed, the HSE said today.

Image: Shutterstock/S_L

THE NUMBER OF patients being referred to cancer diagnostic services has dropped a “worrying” amount since the start of the Covid-19 crisis, and the HSE is today urging people with symptoms of cancer to contact their GP.

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 restriction measures.

The HSE believes that this indicates people with symptoms of cancer are delaying seeking medical advice.

While there’s been a slight increase in the numbers being referred in the past week, the HSE’s National Cancer Control Programme (NCCP) is concerned people with signs and symptoms of cancer aren’t contacting their GPs as they may be fearful of attending health services.

The NCCP is advising people 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
  • You’re constantly tired

Source: HSE Ireland/YouTube

Dr Una Kennedy, a GP advisor on the NCCP, 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.

GP and diagnostic services for cancer remain operational during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The HSE said many problems can be resolved over the phone and some GPs use videoconferencing facilities. Anyone referred on will be seen by staff prepared to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Professor Arnie Hill, a surgical advisor for the NCCP, added: “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.

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Sean Murray

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