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Mouth cancer patients 'wait a month' before seeing clinician

More must be done to raise awareness about the symptoms of mouth cancer, experts have said after figures show that patients wait for weeks on end suffering symptoms before seeking medical help.

People with cancers of the mouth and the oesophagus – the tube that carries food from the throat to the stomach – are waiting longer between first noticing a symptom and going to their GPs compared to patients with other types of cancers, the new research suggests.

The study, conducted by researchers from Cambridge, Durham and Bangor universities and the National Cancer Intelligence Network, examined the number of days between when a patient first noticed a symptom to when they sought medical help.

Using data concerning GP consultations of more than 10,000 patients with 18 different cancers, the authors found that for patients with mouth cancer the average time to visit their GP after noticing a symptom is around a month.

The research, published in the International Journal of Cancer, also found that oesophageal cancer patients are waiting around three weeks to see their family doctor.

Meanwhile, patients with bladder and kidney cancers wait just two or three days before going to see their GP.

'Month wait' in mouth cancer cases

Cancer Research UK said the findings highlight the need for awareness campaigns to encourage people to visit their GPs sooner if they notice any symptoms.

“Oropharyngeal and oesophageal cancers are relatively common but both have a relatively poor outlook for survival,” said one of the study’s authors Dr Georgios Lyratzopoulos, a post-doctoral fellow based at the University of Cambridge.

“Previous research shows that two of the key symptoms for these cancers – difficulty swallowing and ulcers that don’t heal – are the least well-known by the public for their links with cancer.”

Co-author Professor Greg Rubin, from Durham University and clinical lead for cancer for the Royal College of GPs and Cancer Research UK, added: “The result is better understanding of how people with different cancers react to symptoms and where efforts to raise public awareness should be targeted.”

Sara Hiom, Cancer Research UK’s director of early diagnosis, said: “It’s good to see patients with kidney and bladder cancers going to their doctors so quickly, perhaps because their symptoms are more noticeable. But we must do more to encourage people with other less well recognised symptoms to see their GPs as soon as possible.

“Some symptoms are more obvious than others so the important thing is to get to know your own body and what’s normal for you. When cancer is diagnosed earlier, treatment is usually more effective and the chances of beating the disease are higher.”

Symptoms of oesophageal cancer include difficulties in swallowing, weight loss, throat pain and a persistent cough.

Signs of mouth cancer include mouth ulcers that do not heal, red and white patches on the lining of the mouth or tongue and swelling in the mouth that lasts three weeks or more.

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