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Concern after cancer referrals drop by two-thirds

Consultant clinical oncologist Sarah Gwynne

People with potential symptoms of cancer are being urged to seek medical advice after a huge fall in the number of referrals.

Experts at the South West Wales Cancer Centre at Singleton Hospital say there has been a two-thirds reduction in referrals due to the pandemic.

Depending on their symptoms, GPs will initially refer patients to one of Swansea Bay’s three main hospitals for investigation.

Last April, there were 1,218 referrals across all cancer specialties. By April this year, that had fallen to just 409.

Lung cancer referrals, for example, went from 24 to just five.

It’s believed people are not turning to their GP for advice because they are worried about the potential risk of contracting Covid-19 if they are referred for hospital tests.

But consultant clinical oncologist Sarah Gwynne said hospitals and GP surgeries were as safe as they could possibly be.

“It’s a difficult time at the moment. People are very scared about possibly coming into hospital or going to see their GP,” said Dr Gwynne.

“We can see that the number of people who would normally be referred with symptoms that are suggestive of cancer have reduced dramatically – we are only seeing a third of what we would expect.

“That makes us think there are patients out there who may possibly have cancer but are not contacting their GP.”

Most of the health board’s cutting-edge treatment services, including chemotherapy and radiotherapy, a breast care unit and dedicated cancer ward, are located at the South West Wales Cancer Centre.

It treats patients from across South West Wales, from Bridgend, all the way through Swansea to Carmarthen and as far north as Aberystwyth. Additional services are provided at Morriston and Neath Port Talbot hospitals.

Dr Gwynne said: “If you have a concern and the symptom is persisting and you’re not sure what that is, the first port of call is your GP.

“The GP can ask questions about how long the symptoms have been there, they may want to examine you, they may want to send you for some tests.

“It’s really important if there is something wrong that we find out about it.

“It may be that you can simply be reassured after the test that there isn’t anything wrong. But if there is something wrong then we need to know so we can make a treatment plan for you.”

Dr Gwynne said precautions had been taken to protect people coming into hospital from Covid-19.

For example, they will see staff wearing masks, while they may also have their temperature checked before coming into clinical areas.

“This is all for people’s protection,” she added. “We will also try to minimise their visits to hospital as much as possible.

“So the message is – we really want to see you if you’ve got any symptoms that you’re concerned about.

“We’re here to see you. We’re still treating in the cancer centre in Swansea. We’re still open, and we have made the hospital environment as safe as it can be.”