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Graphic: Warning over big increase in cancer referrals in Norfolk

PUBLISHED: 06:30 26 August 2014 | UPDATED: 12:20 26 August 2014

The opening of the radiotherapy cancer treatment unit, the Winterton Unit, at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, by the Duke of Gloucester. The Duke of Gloucester is shown the linear accelerator machine by Fran Hall, radiographer manager. Picture: Denise Bradley

The opening of the radiotherapy cancer treatment unit, the Winterton Unit, at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, by the Duke of Gloucester. The Duke of Gloucester is shown the linear accelerator machine by Fran Hall, radiographer manager. Picture: Denise Bradley

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Hospital bosses have warned that they are beginning to struggle to cope with increased demand following a big rise in cancer referrals across Norfolk.

Spotting the signs of cancer

People are being urged to get any of the following symptoms checked out by their GP:

• A lump anywhere on your body.

• Changes on your skin or to an existing mole (such as itching, bleeding, or a change in shape or colour).

• A cough or hoarseness that lasts for more than three weeks.

• A change in bowel habit that lasts for more than six weeks.

• Any abnormal bleeding from your vagina or back passage, in your urine or when being sick.

• Unexplained, significant weight loss (5kg/10Ibs over a couple of months).

• Coughing up blood.

The county’s biggest hospital - the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital - has seen the number of patients with suspected cancer go up by more than a third over the last five years, according to new figures.

Cancer services at other Norfolk hospitals have also reported a 20% increase in referrals as a result of more people being diagnosed with the Big C.

• To view our statistical cancer graphic click here.

Officials said major publicity campaigns and increased awareness of cancer meant that people were seeking medical help earlier and NHS trusts are expecting numbers to continue to rise.

What causes cancer

• More than 40% of all cancers in the UK are linked to tobacco, alcohol, diet, being overweight, inactivity, infection, radiation, occupation, postmenopausal hormones or breastfeeding for less than 6 months, according to Cancer Research UK experts.

• Smoking causes nearly a fifth of all cancers in the UK, including over 80% of lung cancers.

• Around 17,000 cases of cancer every year in the UK are linked to being overweight or obese.

• Around 12,500 cancers in the UK each year are linked to alcohol.

• Research suggests that a low fibre diet, low consumption of fruit and vegetables, high consumption of red and processed meats and higher intake of salt or saturated fats increase people’s risk.

• Excessive exposure to UV radiation from the sun or sunbeds is the most important modifiable risk factor for skin cancers.

• Physical activity protects against colon, breast and womb cancer.

• Factors such as the age at which a women has her first child, number of children, and whether or not she breastfeeds, affect risk of the most common female cancers.

The Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital has seen the number of cancer referrals rise from 11,000 in 2008/09 to 17,384 in 2013/14 and the Colney site missed two key treatment targets in the first three months of 2014/15.

However, bosses said they were working hard to increase capacity and had plans to create more space for chemotherapy treatment, in addition to the recent opening of a new radiotherapy unit.

Jo Segasby, director of women’s, children’s and cancer services at the hospital, said around 10% of referrals turned out to be cancer.

“There has been a significant increase year on year over the last five years. Patients are more aware of it and are presenting early, which is really good because the earlier the diagnosis, the more treatment options are available and we are seeing more patients having more than one treatment.”

“It is a real challenge for us at the moment. We try to get patients diagnosed a quickly as possible and those that do not have cancer need to be reassured as quickly as possible. If you are getting more and more coming it is difficult to keep up with demand,” she said.

Officials pledged to increase theatre capacity after the N&N missed its target to start cancer treatment within 62 days of GP referral and a 31 day maximum wait for surgery during the first three months of 2014/15.

Cancer referrals at the James Paget University Hospital went from around 500 patients a month in 2011/12 to more than 600 referrals a month in 2013/14.

Sarah Downey, elective divisional director and lead breast surgeon at the Gorleston hospital, said a lot of patients were unaware of how treatable some cancers were and advances in medicine and surgical procedures meant that more tumours could be removed using keyhole surgery.

“You are at risk of any type of cancer increasing as you get older and as the population gets older, the numbers increase. The biggest change in my life time is that we are now seeing patients in their 70s and 80s that are suitable for treatment.”

“The survival rate for breast cancer is excellent at 97 to 98%, but when you tell a patient they have breast cancer, they immediately think they are going to die. Patients tend to think of cancer as a death sentence, but breast cancer is treatable and colon cancer has some very successful treatments,” she said.

Nikki Morris, deputy CEO of cancer support charity Big C, added that there was still more work to be done to get more men to open up about cancer and seek help if they have concerns.

“Cancer is a lot more in the public’s mind, but there is more work to be done around GP referrals and people should not feel that they are wasting GPs’ time by getting a symptom checked out.”
“If you go early, there is a win-win. They often have to have less treatment and there is a higher chance of survival and survivors have less side effects. From a government point of view, they need less input and less finances,” she said.

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