As we approach World Cancer Day on 4 February, I’ve been thinking about the impact cancer has on people’s lives and reflecting on the big advances that have been made in cancer treatment.
As a consultant oncologist, specialising in breast and gynaecological cancers, I have a weekly clinic in Macclesfield where I see the devastating impact that cancer, particularly a late diagnosis, has on patients and their families.
That’s why The Christie at Macclesfield is such an important project. It will provide cancer care closer to home for more than 1,500 existing Christie patients a year. The purpose-built centre will bring together radiotherapy, chemotherapy, outpatient care, palliative care, patient support and advice and a wider range of clinical trials in one place.
For many patients I see, a course of radiotherapy may be required and is usually given every weekday, Monday to Friday, for between three and six weeks depending on the cancer. At present, patients from Macclesfield have to make long and tiring journeys each day for radiotherapy at our Withington, Oldham or Salford sites.
The new centre at Macclesfield will also include a modern chemotherapy and immunotherapy unit, offering patients the latest anti-cancer drug treatments locally. Many of the targeted cancer drugs and immunotherapies provided are available because of clinical trials that The Christie has been involved with. I’m thrilled that patients from Macclesfield will have access to a wider range of clinical trials than previously available.
There is no doubt that The Christie at Macclesfield, due to open at the end of 2021, will make a huge difference to the patients I see.
Despite the big advances in cancer treatment, prevention and early detection of cancer is by far the most powerful tool we have to beat cancer. That’s why I want to share some information about the main types of cancer I help to treat and some symptoms for readers to look out for.
Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in the UK with around one in eight women diagnosed during their lifetime. Most women diagnosed are over the age of 50 and, although very rare, men can also be diagnosed with breast cancer.
Women between 50 and 71 should attend routine breast screenings every three years as these can pick up any changes in the breast at an early stage. However, if you find something that worries you, do not wait for screening. See your GP.
All women should check their breasts regularly as the first symptom of breast cancer that most women notice is a lump or an area of thickened tissue. Most breast lumps are not cancerous but women should see their GP if they notice any of the following:
- a new lump or area of thickened tissue in either breast
- a change in the size or shape in either breast
- a discharge of fluid from either nipple
- a lump or swelling in either armpit
- dimpling on the skin of the breast
- a rash on or around the nipple
- a change in the appearance of the nipple, such as becoming sunken into the breast
Cancer of the womb (uterine or endometrial cancer) is a fairly common cancer, and more common in women who have been through the menopause.
Cervical cancer is less common, affecting around 1% of women at some stage in their lifetime. The symptoms of cervical cancer are not always obvious which is why it is so important for women between the ages of 25 and 64 to attend cervical screening.
The HPV vaccine, now offered to teenage girls and boys, also helps to stop the spread of HPV which is associated with many cervical cancers.
The symptoms to look out for with gynaecological cancers include:
- abnormal vaginal bleeding that is unusual for you
- unusual or unpleasant vaginal discharge
- pain and discomfort during sex
- pain in your lower back, pelvis, lower abdomen (tummy) or side near your kidneys
- a change in bowel or bladder habits or loss of control
- blood in your pee
- swelling or pain in one or both legs
- loss of appetite, tiredness or nausea.
These symptoms all need to be discussed with your GP as they may be due to cancer.
Despite the challenges the NHS has faced due to COVID-19, it’s really important to remember that the NHS is open for business. At The Christie, we have worked hard to continue to provide care and treatment in a COVID safe way throughout the pandemic.
If cancer is suspected, your GP can make an urgent referral. Screening is open again. Many of my patients express relief that they went for this as the chance of cure of cancer is so much better when picked up early. I promise I will go for my screening too!
How to support The Christie at Macclesfield
To support The Christie at Macclesfield appeal, please visit www.christies.org/macclesfield or call our team on 0161 446 3988.