Don't let coronavirus stop you from seeing your GP about other conditions
Date: May 2020
Over the past few months, all we’ve seen, heard and discussed has been the coronavirus pandemic. That’s to be expected; it’s crucial that we spread awareness of how the disease is spread, what the symptoms are and how we can best treat it. But is all this focus on COVID-19 at the risk of neglecting education around other illnesses?
Health experts are now warning that we may be about to experience a ‘hidden health pandemic’ caused by patients not seeking help with serious conditions early enough. NHS England is now warning the public to seek help for cancer symptoms as new research has revealed that half of the population are worried about seeking help during the coronavirus pandemic.
One in 10 people say they wouldn’t contact their GP even if they had a lump or new mole that didn’t go away after a week.
‘Given that the lifetime risk of cancer affects more than 1 in 3 people, that’s a statistic that cannot be ignored, even in the face of a pandemic,’ explains consultant dermatologist Dr Sharon Wong.
‘It’s all about timing - the sooner you’re diagnosed, the better your chances. All that public awareness about catching cancers early has been overshadowed by the “stay at home” coronavirus information.
‘At the end of the day, other non-covid related medical conditions such as cancers, heart attacks and strokes are still happening – timing is absolutely key in terms of early diagnosis and treatment to give patients the best outcome’
While no one is disputing the importance of social distancing to contain the current pandemic, it’s important to point out that around this time of year, dermatologists tend to receive a wave of referrals from GPs and self-referrals with concerns about moles and possible skin cancer.
‘As the weather gets better, people are outdoors more and start to see skin they’ve not exposed over the winter months,’ Dr Wong says.
‘The worry is that we’re not seeing those numbers of referrals at the moment. How many of these early skin cancers are we missing now? People might come in for many months later when what would have been pre-cancerous or a thin melanoma is diagnosed at a much later stage as a thick melanoma when prognosis is significantly worse. The pandemic is coinciding with the time that we dermatologists tend to see an influx of patients coming in with new lumps and bumps and changing moles which could be formative skin cancer. Where are those referrals?’
One problem is the fact that we’re all stuck at home and it’s been unusually hot and sunny. With little else to do, those of us with gardens or balconies have been lounging outside, or taking lengthy walks as a means of getting some fresh air. But how many of us have been using SPF during these trips or afternoon al fresco siestas?
‘Understandably sun safety is not at the forefront of people's minds amidst the pandemic. People tend to remember about sun protection when they’re on holiday but now that people are spending more time outdoors in their local area, they’re not thinking about skin health and sun safety.’
If you’re planning on spending over 15 minutes outdoors, you really should be applying a decent sunscreen. Plump for factor 30 or 50 and make sure it’s ‘full spectrum’.
More importantly, if you notice any changes to your skin or body, you must seek medical attention. Contact your GP or ring 111 if you need urgent attention.
Whatever you do, don’t put it off. Remember, cancers are more easily treatable the earlier they’re caught.
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Information written by the talkhealth team
Last revised: 5 May 2020
Next review: 5 May 2023