MP WRITES: Cancer awareness

It is an unfortunate fact of life that cancer affects everybody.

You may have seen the adverts on the television, giving the terrifying statistic that today, and every other day, about 890 people in the UK will be told that they have cancer. That’s one person every 96 seconds.

It’s of course not just the person who is diagnosed with cancer that has to deal with it. Relatives and friends will also have to deal with the news and pull together to give the person the strength to fight the disease.

Over the course of what I do I meet with some remarkable people. A couple of years ago I found myself sat next to Joanne Smith at an event.

Joanne lives in Blaydon and in 2005, at the age of 34, Joanne was diagnosed with breast cancer. The day she was diagnosed was her daughter’s second birthday.

Joanne is a fantastic person and we have kept in touch. She founded FACT – Fighting All Cancers Together North-East and has launched the North-East Cancer Care Awards.

This event is an opportunity to recognise somebody in the North-East who has done so much to fight cancer and support people who suffer from this dreadful disease.

The nominee could be an individual, a family, a community group or a volunteer – anybody who has made a difference.

Nominations need to be in by 31 August and nomination forms are available at my office at 23 South Road or from me at

I’m pretty sure, based on the commitment and warmth of Hartlepool, that the winner of the North-East Cancer Care Awards could indeed come from the town.

We have Pansies who have helped so many women fight breast cancer, as well as countless unsung heroes who have battled cancer, often in the most difficult of circumstances.

I’ve said before, but it is worth repeating, that there has been a revolution in cancer over the course of my lifetime. Whereas only a few short years ago, the word cancer was considered to be synonymous with an obvious imminent death sentence, to the extent where the word was often not even mentioned, today’s treatments mean that recovery and survival rates are often remarkable.

Only this week, it was good to hear that Michael Parkinson, who has been treated for prostate cancer, has been told that he will make a full recovery.

This week has also seen the launch of a new website by Cancer Research UK, which provides local statistics. The website is available at and allows people to compare treatments and recovery rates across the country.

The statistics make for important reading and should hopefully provide a basis for ever better services.

I’m afraid that the town falls badly short on the incidences of cancer – we are almost 10 per cent more likely in Hartlepool to have cancer than the rest of the country.

This is seen to be down to lifestyle factors like higher rates of smoking, perhaps not eating the right foods or looking after our weight and drinking too much alcohol.

Indeed, Hartlepool has a higher rate of smoking than the general population.

In Hartlepool, early diagnosis has always been an issue – that old reluctance to recognise the symptoms and feel that you can carry on and not bother the doctor – which means that emergency presentations are needed, leading to later treatment and lower survival rates.

The data shows, however, that Hartlepool’s emergency presentations are about 25 per cent, on a par with the national average, which indicates better progress.

The good news is that survival rates for cancer patients in Hartlepool are on a par with the national average, although our survival rates still lag behind those in Europe.

If lifestyles change and we improve early diagnosis, the quality of treatment would mean that more people in Hartlepool would survive and enjoy more quality time with their friends and families.

As I said, everybody will have been touched in some way by cancer – I do hope that you will demonstrate how special the town is by nominating somebody for the North-East Cancer Care Awards.