This year’s theme for World Cancer Day (4 February) is to reduce stigma and dispel myths about cancer. With this in mind the Public Health Agency (PHA) is highlighting some of the misconceptions about the disease.
Myth 1: We don’t need to talk about cancer.
Dr Carolyn Harper, Director of Public Health at the PHA, said: “Whilst cancer can be a difficult topic to address, we need to talk about it. There are around 9,000 new cases of cancer diagnosed each year in Northern Ireland and only by talking about cancer openly can we improve outcomes.”
Myth 2: There are no signs or symptoms of cancer.
Dr Harper continued: “For many cancers, there are symptoms and we know that if cancer is diagnosed early, a person is more likely to survive. If we can detect cancer early, treatment is much more likely to be successful.
“It is therefore important for everyone to be aware of warning signs which need to be investigated to ensure speedy diagnosis and treatment.”
Some examples of symptoms are:
- coughing up blood;
- a mole which begins to change, such as getting larger or inflamed, or developing irregular edges;
- blood in a bowel motion;
- starting to bleed again after the menopause;
- mouth ulcers that have not healed after three weeks;
- food regularly seeming to stick on the way down when you swallow.
“If you experience any of these symptoms, speak to your GP. Some of the differences in survival rates in Northern Ireland compared with other countries may be due to patients presenting later to their GPs.”
Myth 3: There is nothing I can do about cancer.
Dr Harper added: “There are many things that people can do to reduce the risk, such as:
- If you smoke, try to stop – visit www.want2stop.info for tips to help you quit;
- Keep alcohol consumption within safe limits – www.knowyourlimits.info has more information on this;
- Take regular exercise and aim to keep your weight within the recommended BMI range – www.choosetolivebetter.com has more information on simple steps that can help reduce weight;
- Avoid getting sunburn – use sunscreen and a hat and don’t use sunbeds – see www.careinthesun.org for more information.
“Northern Ireland has excellent cancer screening programmes in place to help detect the first signs of cancer. These include cervical, breast and bowel cancer screening. I would encourage everyone to go for screening when it’s offered.”
For more information on Northern Ireland screening programmes visit www.cancerscreening.n-i.nhs.uk