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


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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  • On July 9th 2013 I was referred, by my GP, to the N&N University Hospital as an emergency following a period of exrcrutiating pain in my head that had become unbearable. Diagnosis was "Post Herpetic Neuralgia" and I was sent home that day with anti -convulsive and anti-depressant pills. I continued to suffer and throughout that glorious summer, I remained bed ridden with pain! My GP said I was not persevering with the pill regime and I should continue to increase the dose. I eventually reached the end of my tether and thought that I could only relieve the pain with death. My wife, against my will, phoned an ambulance and I was again admitted to N&N University Hospital on 23rd August 2013. "Investigations-none" Diagnosis -"Trigeminal Neuralgia,Possible" "Treatment - none". I was discharged and slept on a bench outside the A&E Department. The onset of double vision led to a further referral to N&N on 3rd October 2013.Again the opinion was post herpetic neuralgia but this time , for the first time an MR scan was recommended. Following the scan, on 23rd October 2013 my scan was said to have shown an abnormal area of soft tissue.Biopsies were taken on 5th November 2013 and a further MRI scan was taken the following day. Biopsies taken from the laft nasal polyp proved benign. A CT scan followed that weekend. On 12th December 2013 I was diagnosed with a "suspected tumour" behind my left eye. On 19th December I was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma which is terminal and, at last, I was prescribed morphine for my pain. This really makes a mockery of the idea that an early referral by a GP will improve you cancer survival chances. One £400 MRI scan in July 1913 would have saved me months of agony and probably have given me a chance of survival. My ongoing management and treatment is in the hands of The Royal Marsden Hospital, London from whom I sought a second opinion following advice from a wonderful Wymondham based cancer charity called Star Throwers - without whom I don't think I would still be around to tell this story, which does NOT contain all of the details of my N&N University Hospital experiences. No wonder they did not meet their targets!

    Report this comment


    Tuesday, August 26, 2014

  • We must all learn to be a bit more patient as the NHS is dealing with many more people than it used to, the population has increased rapidly and many people now need the NHS who have journeyed here from all over the world and arrived in poor states of health. The NHS is already one of the largest employers in the world and no government can sustain the present demand for treatment.

    Report this comment


    Tuesday, August 26, 2014

  • Increasing ageing population in Norfolk and you get more illness, it's not that complicated is it?

    Report this comment

    Catton Man

    Tuesday, August 26, 2014

  • What are the stats for the rest of the country? Or is it only Norfolk that has shown a significant increase (awareness)? If so, why?

    Report this comment


    Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The views expressed in the above comments do not necessarily reflect the views of this site

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