Early diagnosis key to beating cancer

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HEALTH professionals have stressed the importance of early diagnosis during an ongoing investigation into cancer awareness.

Hartlepool has one of the worst rates in England for cancer-related deaths and councillors are keen to see what can be done to improve the situation.

A number of experts spoke recently to Hartlepool Borough Council’s health scrutiny forum as part of an ongoing inquiry.

Consultant colorectal surgeon Mohamed Tabaqchali, consultant physician Dr Neil Leitch and consultant breast surgeon Colm Hennessy, from the North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust, were at the meeting.

They said there is a 93 per cent target for two-week referrals and in 2011 the trust saw 7,154 referrals for all-types of cancer.

The total number seen within two weeks was 6,810 or 95.2 per cent.

Of the 1,774 breast cancer referrals, 1,681 were seen within 14 days or 94.8 per cent, which health experts said was “excellent”.

Of those cases 144 were confirmed as cancer.

Mr Hennessy, who said early diagnosis of cancer was key, reported there was a 70 per cent uptake among eligible women over 50 at the 16 GP practices in town.

One had more than 80 per cent, but four had less than 70 per cent.

He added: “Six minutes every three years could potentially save your life. That is what the screening entails.

“The fact that not everybody takes up the screening is somewhat disappointing.”

Women are called for breast screening around their 50th birthday, by GP practice, on a three-year cycle.

There is a fixed screening unit at the One Life Hartlepool centre, in Park Road, and a mobile facility in Peterlee.

But Labour councillor Marjorie James said it would be better to send out letters calling for women to be screened by birthday instead of GP practice.

Mr Hennessy said there was a national programme to bring the screening age down to 47, but there are “major” financial implications.

Dr Leitch, who spoke about lung cancer, added: “There are treatments available which are effective.

“The more quickly people get treated then the better the chance of a positive outcome.”

He added that there is currently no national screening programme for lung cancer, but said there were various studies to identify who to screen.

Dr Leitch added that it was crucial to ensure children do not start smoking.

He said a lifelong male smoker has a 15.9 per cent chance of developing lung cancer by 75 while someone who has never smoked has a 0.5 per cent chance.

Out of 562 lung cancer referrals 534 were seen within a fortnight, or 95 per cent and 1,321 out of 1,412 colorectal referrals, or 93.6 per cent.

The scrutiny investigation aims to gain an understanding of the levels of cancer in Hartlepool, explore the methods for early detection and screening of cancer, assess the impact and delivery of smoking cessation services and examine the impact of cancer awareness activities.