19th October 2020

The NHS is Still Here: A tumour caught early could be a tumour cured

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The sooner a person can start their treatment for lung cancer the better. Hospitals are doing everything they can to ensure people with lung cancer can receive treatment safely during the pandemic, as David Gilligan, consultant oncologist in Cambridge, explains:

It’s really important to detect tumours early because the earlier we detect them, the more successful treatment is going to be, and hopefully, a tumour picked up early, will be a tumour cured.

In the last few years lung cancer management has really mushroomed in terms of the treatments that are available to people.

There’s been massive amount of work looking at surgery, which is less invasive. Keyhole surgery, or VATS surgery as it is sometimes caused, is used much more widely and that is associated with much less pain and much better healing, smaller scars and less time in hospital.

Other treatments, such as radiotherapy, have become much, much more able to focus the radiation beam on the tumours while treating people with combinations of radiotherapy and chemotherapy have become much more common.

We also have many more options for treating people with widespread or advanced disease. In addition to standard chemotherapy, we now have immunotherapy, which allows the body’s immune system to attack the cancer and, for people who have specific types of lung cancer, there are targeted therapies. These usually come in tablet form and target against specific abnormalities of the tumour. These treatments are proving to be very effective and usually associated with less side effects. For many people who respond well, their life has been transformed.

I understand people with lung cancer may be concerned about coming into hospital for treatment but there are many safety measures which have been put in place because of Covid.

For instance, we all wear face masks in every area of the hospital. To get into the hospital, you have to show you either work here or that you’ve got an appointment. You are encouraged to sanitise your hands when you come in and you may have your temperature taken.

The hospital has worked really hard to reconfigure areas so that people who might have Covid – in the broadest of terms – does not come into contact with people who have no symptoms. Anyone who might have symptoms, for example, has to come in through a difference and separate entrance. There are designated areas so it’s as safe as it can be.

When it comes to treatment, certainly in Cambridge and speaking to other colleagues in other parts of the country, by large, treatments weren’t stopped during the peak of pandemic. They may be modified, and nationally at the beginning of the pandemic, experts got together to make recommendations about treatments and how we could make sensible and safe adjustments to treatments if the hospital had a large number of people with Covid.

By large, the majority of treatments continued during the Covid pandemic and I’d say they are almost back to normal at the moment. Clearly, it’s a situation that can change and we may need to look at things again. However, people have gained a massive amount of experience in looking after people with Covid now. There are changes and processes in place so that if there is a second wave, people will be treated with Covid and hopefully we won’t have to make the radical shut down of the NHS that was anticipated with the first wave.

Let’s face it, some of the symptoms of Covid overlap with some of the symptoms of lung cancer. However, if you think you have symptoms of lung cancer, you need to take action, and I think the important thing is don’t be frightened to take action.

Your GP may not see you face to face. They may do it by telephone or by video in the first instance. But be persistent. If you are concerned about your symptoms, see it through and pester your doctor. You may have to speak to them more than once, but get an x-ray, or get an appointment at hospital to check that it is nothing serious going on.