We quizzed our local Basildon and Brentwood-based Macmillan GP, Dr Deepak Kumar about what to look out for in these two particular cancers and why earlier diagnosis is so important.

Macmillan GPs work to influence local commissioning decisions for cancer, encourage and support meaningful engagement about cancer across local health systems, improve lines of communication between various services and ensure that cancer remains high on the primary care agenda.

Part of the role is also to communicate with the public about potential cancer symptoms, regularly – highlighting the benefits of earlier diagnosis for better cancer outcomes.

Here, Dr Kumar talks about the importance of getting potential ovarian and prostate cancer symptoms checked as soon as possible, and how you can get in touch with your GP during the pandemic to have these conversations.

What are the most common ovarian cancer symptoms to look out for?

“As GPs we play a crucial role in ruling out ovarian cancer at the first suspicion, and ensuring women are diagnosed at the earliest possible stage.

Ovarian cancer often causes symptoms that are similar to other more common and less serious conditions – these include:

  • a long-lasting bloated or swollen tummy
  • a loss of appetite
  • feeling full quickly when you eat
  • pain in the lower tummy area or back
  • passing urine more often than usual
  • passing urine more urgently (for example, feeling like you can’t hold on).

Other ovarian cancer symptoms may include:

  • a change in your normal bowel habit (diarrhoea or constipation)
  • weight gain or weight loss
  • unexplained or extreme tiredness (fatigue)
  • vaginal bleeding after your menopause.

Some women may only get one of two of these symptoms, and some might find they get a combination.

Women usually know their own bodies very well, so if there is anything that is not normal or worrying – for example symptoms are severe, there is a recent onset, or, particularly if they are persistent – then it’s best to speak to a GP to check this out.

Throughout the pandemic, we have encouraged people to not let COVID-19 put them off of contacting their doctor. The way people access the appointment may be slightly different – but the importance of making contact as soon as possible and getting seen has always stayed the same.

What are the most common prostate cancer symptoms to look out for?

“Spotting early signs of prostate cancer can be tricky, so it’s important that men are vigilant about possible symptoms. These can include:

  • difficulty urinating – for example, a weak flow or having to strain to start peeing
  • needing to urinate more often than usual, especially at night
  • feeling like you have not completely emptied your bladder after peeing
  • an urgent need to pee
  • blood in the urine or semen
  • and, rarely; pain when peeing or ejaculating.

Sometimes, because prostate cancer is difficult to spot, it can spread to other parts of the body. This is when you might discover other symptoms such as pain, discomfort and weight loss. Again, it’s important to be vigilant about symptoms that are persistent, severe or out of the ordinary.

We understand that showing any symptoms of what could be cancer is worrying. Most of the time, it won’t be cancer, but it’s best not to sit on anything if worried. Whatever is causing the symptoms should be checked out.”

Why is early diagnosis so important?

“Early diagnosis is important because it increases the chances of survival. Diagnosing cancer before it has spread too far usually means that treatment is also more likely to be successful.

People will know their bodies best. If something doesn’t seem right, or is unusual, talk to your doctor.

Whether the appointment is via phone, video call or face to face – it’s important to get in touch as soon as possible. If it is cancer, spotting it early can make a real difference.

Myself, and other local health professionals recently took part in a mid and south Essex cancer awareness campaign to raise awareness of cancer symptoms.

It’s crucial that we continue to raise awareness via local and national campaigns, and ensure we keep the conversations about catching cancer early going.”

What’s the best way to raise concerns about cancer during COVID-19?

“If you’re concerned about any symptoms – the best thing to do is to contact your GP practice as soon as possible.

Although coronavirus is still with us, it’s important to talk to a health professional about any worries you may have.

If you’re worried it might be cancer, you can mention this on the phone. If you do need to attend to be examined in person, you can be confident that measures are in place to keep you safe. Staff and doctors will be wearing PPE, social distancing will be enforced and regular cleaning takes place.”


Links to useful information and advice

Cancer Research UK – Living well with cancer during the coronavirus pandemic