Most of us will have been affected by cancer in some way; statistics tell us that 1 in 2 people born in the UK after 1960 will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lifetime. Somerset has its’ own story in that our population is on average much older than the rest of the UK; as more than a third of new cancer cases are in people aged 75 and over, this means our cancer statistics are higher than the national average by 1.2%1. Incidences of skin cancer are particularly high in Somerset compared to the national average.
The good news
The good news is that treatment has improved so much that we know that half of all people now survive cancer for 10 or more years in the UK. This is continually improving and has doubled in the UK over the past 40 years. The reasons for this progress are multiple; firstly, we have ensured that people have the right information to make the best health and lifestyle choices possible. This prevents some cancers from developing. Secondly, we have improved the frequency and types of screening programmes, so are catching a number of cancers much earlier. Thirdly, the quality of testing has improved, leading to earlier diagnosis which improves survival. This progress also means that we have needed to change and adapt our cancer services to support people way beyond treatment and into a new phase of living after the acute treatment phase of cancer is over.
What can we do to fight cancer?
There are two main areas we can work on to reduce these numbers; the first is prevention.
Statistics tell us that approximately 4 out of every 10 cancers (38%) in the UK could be prevented. Working to prevent cancer is by far the best option; any reduction in cancers developing in the first place will make a huge difference. The risks of developing many cancers can be radically reduced by people choosing to pursue a healthy lifestyle. Smoking is still the largest cause of cancer in the UK making up 15% of all cancer cases with obesity coming second at 6%.
The second thing we can do is to improve screening (testing) for cancer because we know if we can detect cancer at an early stage, treatment is usually far more successful. In short, we need to work on how best to prevent cancers, detect them early and deliver the best treatment possible. In order to achieve this we need to keep listening to patients and help them and their carers receive the best level of support and care throughout their cancer treatment and beyond.
What can I do to protect myself?
Be aware of your body. If you notice anything unusual/unexplained about your body like the appearance of a lump, blood in your urine or unusual bowel habits, please make an appointment to see your GP. Too often, people ignore symptoms or are afraid to find out more. Please, get checked and tested early and don’t delay in seeing your GP.
We know that if we can catch cancers early, survival rates are radically improved. Please take some time to look at the NHS website and make sure you know what signs or symptoms to look out for.
The other thing we can all do is take the best care possible of our bodies by eating well and exercising; every small change will make a difference. Choose something you enjoy and you’ll be much more likely to do it – there’s a lot out there!
Where can I find out what I need to know and get help?
GP practice – Apart from GPs and nurses, many practices now have their own Health Connectors who are a very valuable source of assistance. They can provide support and link patients into local groups and services. Ask at your GP practice if there is a Health Connector who can support you.
Acute Care – This refers to Hospital care. Your clinical team of doctors and nurses will be able to support you and refer you to sources of help. This valuable service will mainly be carried out by the Cancer Support Workers working with the clinical team.
Online Information – There are many websites giving information but unfortunately not all of it is accurate. We would recommend the following services and websites:
- Community or Village Agents are a valuable source of local information, help and services in your area. Find yours at: www.somersetcarers.org/who-can-help-you/somerset-village-agents/
- Community Cafes – in our rural county, Community Cafes are a great source of help providing information on local support and available services whilst enjoying a sociable tea or coffee with friends! Look your nearest one up: www.somersetagents.org/talking-cafes/
- For all things local to you: www.somersetcommunityconnect.org.uk/
- WHY – We Hear You counselling service works across Bath and North East Somerset, Somerset and Wiltshire providing emotional support to patients, families, friends and carers who have been affected by cancer or any other life-threatening condition. www.wehearyou.org.uk/