New research shows that lack of awareness of the symptoms of mouth and oesophageal cancer means people wait much longer before visiting their GPs than people with symptoms of other cancers. 

 

Two of the key symptoms for these cancers – difficulty swallowing and ulcers that don’t heal – are the least well-known by the public for their links with cancer

Dr Georgios Lyratzopoulos

Lack of awareness of the symptoms of mouth and oesophageal cancer means people take much longer to talk to their GPs about these, compared with other, cancers.

New research from Cambridge, Durham and Bangor found that people with mouth cancer wait for around a month after first spotting symptoms before visiting their GP, and those with oesophageal cancer around three weeks.

Patients with bladder and kidney cancer, however, wait only two or three days before reporting their symptoms to a doctor.

Published in the International Journal of Cancer, the study drew on data from the National Audit of Cancer Diagnosis in Primary Care and included GP consultations with more than 10,000 patients with 18 different cancer types.

Mouth and oesophageal cancer are relatively common, but both have a relatively poor outlook for survival.

“Previous research shows that two of the key symptoms for these cancers – difficulty swallowing and ulcers that don’t heal – are the least well-known by the public for their links with cancer,” explained the University of Cambridge’s Dr Georgios Lyratzopoulos, one of the authors of the study.

Their results suggest more needs to be done to raise awareness of these symptoms. According to Sara Hiom, Cancer Research UK’s director of early diagnosis: “It’s good to see patients with kidney and bladder cancers going to their doctors so quickly, perhaps because their symptoms are more noticeable. But we must do more to encourage people with other less well recognised symptoms to see their GPs as soon as possible.

“Some symptoms are more obvious than others so the important thing is to get to know your own body and what’s normal for you. When cancer is diagnosed earlier, treatment is usually more effective and the chances of beating the disease are higher.”

The NHS ‘Be Clear on Cancer’ campaigns do not currently include symptoms of mouth cancer.


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