Today is the first ever Less Survivable Cancers Awareness Day, an initiative launched by the Less Survivable Cancers Taskforce (LSCT) in order to raise the profile of our cancers and to highlight the critical importance of early diagnosis in improving survival and quality of life.
The Brain Tumour Charity is part of this taskforce, alongside five other cancer charities who each represent one of the six less survivable common cancers (lung, pancreatic, liver, brain, oesophageal and stomach).
Together these cancers are responsible for almost half of all cancer deaths and make up a quarter of cancer cases each year in the UK, with an average five-year survival rate of just 16%.
Less survivable cancers are difficult to diagnose as they often have vague or non-specific symptoms, and screening programmes are limited or non-existent. Data released by the LSCT in 2021 also showed that awareness of the symptoms of the deadliest cancers is as low as 4% in the UK.
As a taskforce, we are raising awareness of less survivable cancers today, Tuesday 11 January, urging everyone to be aware of the symptoms of these cancers and to seek medical help at the earliest opportunity if they recognise any of the signs.
Many patients with a less survivable cancer will only be diagnosed after an emergency admission to hospital or an emergency GP referral after symptoms have become severe. For other common cancers, the proportion diagnosed at such a late stage is far lower and the average five-year survival rate is markedly higher at 69%.
Know the red flags
Typical symptoms will vary but red flags for less survivable cancers could include any of the following; indigestion, abdominal pain, unexplained weight loss, a loss of appetite, difficulty swallowing, a persistent cough, unexplained tiredness, headaches or nausea. We want everyone to be aware of these symptoms, and to see their GP swiftly if anything is unusual.
For brain tumours symptoms can include: headaches, nausea or vomiting, vision or speech problems, fits (seizures), mental or behavioural changes, such as memory problems or changes in personality.
As well as a focus on symptom awareness, the LSCT is calling for all UK governments to commit to increasing survival rates for less survivable cancers to 28% by 2029 by eliminating avoidable delays in diagnosis and proactively investing in research and treatment options.
‘The situation is critical’
Anna Jewell, Chair of the Less Survivable Cancers Taskforce, said:
“We know that delays in diagnosis lead to much poorer outcomes for patients with these rapidly-advancing cancers. We also know the trauma associated with receiving a diagnosis in an emergency setting for both patients and families.
“These cancers are currently difficult or impossible to treat at later stages and the time from diagnosis to death is often brutally short compared to more survivable cancers. The situation is critical and has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. The Taskforce is calling for a significant increase in research funding as well as a commitment to increasing resources for early diagnosis for less survivable cancers so we can close the deadly cancer gap.”
Dr David Jenkinson, Interim CEO and Chief Scientific Officer at The Brain Tumour Charity, said:
“These worrying figures highlight that early detection remains a critical challenge for less survivable cancers including brain tumours. Through sustained investment in research and NHS care, we have seen great progress in early diagnosis and survival for many other health conditions in the last two decades, but this progress has unfortunately not yet been forthcoming for less survivable cancers and we need to act now.
“For brain tumours, the signs can be vague and many common symptoms such as persistent headaches can have a variety of other more likely causes – while many other people may experience extremely severe or sudden symptoms such as seizures, making an emergency presentation unavoidable. It is therefore vital we see greater investment in world-class research to find new diagnostic methods and triage tools to support GPs, to help ensure that anyone affected by a less survivable cancer can receive the diagnosis and support they need at the earliest possible opportunity.
“While brain tumours are relatively rare, it’s important to recognise the signs and if you’re worried, if a symptoms persists or if you have a combination of symptoms, we’d encourage you to speak to your doctor.”
How you can get involved
Firstly you can familiarise yourself with the symptoms of the six cancers, which can be found on the LSCT website here.
Secondly, you can write to your local politician (MP/MSP/MS/MLA) to encourage them to get involved today and help raise awareness, there is a template letter available on the LSCT website here. You can copy and paste the letter below to an email, add your personal details, and a paragraph about your personal experiences if you have been affected by one of these cancers. Then send it to your representative.
Thirdly, you can help us by sharing social media posts from The Brain Tumour Charity and LSCT social media across the day in order to raise awareness of the signs and symptoms and the need for action, and to reach as many people as possible.
Thank you so much if you choose to take any of these actions, we really appreciate your involvement in helping us raise awareness of brain tumours as part of the Less Survivable Cancers Taskforce.