Helen Martin: Cancer screening is available – so use it

Screening services such as those for breast cancer are vital for boosting early diagnosis. Picture: Getty
Screening services such as those for breast cancer are vital for boosting early diagnosis. Picture: Getty
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THE headlines around cancer diagnosis are bad. “Fears rising as Scotland fails to meet targets for early detection”.

The number of patients with lung, colorectal and breast cancer diagnosed at early Stage 1 (when tumours are smallest, haven’t spread and are treatable) has remained at around 25 per cent for the last two years despite the Government’s plan to see the figures rise.

Unfortunately, the same can be said for Stage 4 cancers which have grown, spread and have lower long-term survival rates. Their figures have remained the same too (also around 25 per cent), despite the hope they would fall.

Major campaigners such as Macmillan Cancer are calling on the Government to explain why targets haven’t been met. And those who don’t understand the background may think the NHS and its shrinking finances are to blame. The problem is the public attitude.

Regular readers will know I have just gone through my second bout of breast cancer. The first, 15 years ago, resulted in a mastectomy, reconstruction and hormone limitation drugs for five years. The second had the same outcome with mastectomy surgery last month and another five years of drugs to block oestrogen on which the cancers “feed”, so to speak.

READ MORE: Helen Martin: Most of us can stump up for our own aspirin

Hopefully the result will be the same – survival. Both were spotted at Stage 1. I noticed no symptoms, felt as fit as a fiddle, no pain, no sense of illness. They were diagnosed as a result of routine mammograms which, for the majority of people, are clear.

But for “lucky” patients like me, cancers are found early and (I hope) can be dealt with.

These screenings for breast cancer, and bowel cancer (simply a matter of responding to a testing kit sent to anyone over 50 and returning a tiny sample of poo), are crucial for boosting early diagnosis.

The problem is that fewer women of 50 and over are taking up the offer of mammograms, and little more than half Scottish men and women of the same age respond to the offer of bowel screening.

It may be because they aren’t aware of any symptoms so assume screening is unnecessary. It may be that they just can’t cope with “disgustingly” taking a sample of their own excrement. Or that they are simply too afraid of being told they have an indication of cancer. As a result, they are putting their own lives at risk.

The Government and the NHS are not to blame. They provide the free screening services and encourage everyone to use them. Having done so, I am alive, I’m being treated, and have every reason to believe I can get through it.

I feel obliged to encourage and beg everyone to take advantage of NHS screening. One in eight women will develop breast cancer at some point. Understand that the earlier cancer is discovered the better. Cancer treatments are constantly advancing. For those who are too young for routine screening, swot up on your own home checks and report anything unusual to your GP.

But don’t believe cancer always comes with obvious symptoms – it doesn’t. And above all, don’t be afraid of scans and tests. They offer your best chance of nipping it in the bud at Stage 1 . . . and saving your life.