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Mum and 5-year cancer survivor sounds urgent warning on cancer screening tests in Wales

Ali Alcock

A north Wales mum celebrating her five-year cancer all-clear has called for urgent action to restart national cancer screening tests in Wales.


Ali Alcock, a social worker from Corwen, was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2015 following a routine smear test.


As it stands in Wales, all such routine screening is suspended as the NHS continues to adapt to the challenge of coronavirus, raising concerns that cancer diagnoses are being delayed and may be missed.


Commenting on the suspension of cervical screening in Wales, Ali said:


“I had absolutely no symptoms and the smear test that led to my cancer diagnosis was completely routine – the slightly undignified but regular check-up that all women dread.


“It was that routine smear test that helped save my life. 


“The current situation where cervical screening has been suspended makes me really nervous for the women who are now being missed.


“The operative word in my story is ‘early’. A routine screening test led to my cancer being diagnosed at the earliest possible stage, which meant there were treatment options open to me.


“Without that test I dread to think how long it would have been before I was diagnosed, and how different the outcome may have been for me and my family because of that.


“While my journey certainly wasn’t an easy one and cancer and its treatment has had a huge impact on my life, I am still here because of national screening – and that is why these tests simply have to be restarted as soon as possible.”


Ali has since gone on to become a Macmillan Cancer Support Ambassador and along with family, friends and the local community has raised over £15k to help the charity’s efforts to support people with cancer in Wales.


Dr Elise Lang, Macmillan GP Advisor said:


“In late March, all screening programmes were suspended in Wales as the NHS adapted to meet the predicted needs of coronavirus patients and to reduce potential exposure to the virus. 


“As things progress with coronavirus, we need to ensure that women with previous high-risk changes who are due a smear contact their GP surgery and discuss arranging an appointment. Smears can now be processed if the surgery has capacity to do so.


“Routine testing must also be urgently but safely reintroduced, and it must be done in a way that captures the backlog of cases that have been missed so that no one of screening age in Wales is left unaccounted for.


“As Ali’s story shows – national screening programmes are vital in diagnosing cancer early and without them we run the very real risk of people’s diagnosis being delayed or at worst, missed altogether. 


“Anyone worried about new or changing symptoms should also call their local GP as usual – we may be working in slightly different ways, but we are still here to help.”


Richard Pugh, Head of Partnerships for Macmillan Cancer Support in Wales said:


“Cancer must not become the forgotten ‘c’ during this coronavirus crisis. 


“What we desperately need to see from Welsh Government is a clear cancer recovery plan for how we are going to get cancer diagnosis and treatment services back up and running.


“Without urgent action, people will be diagnosed with cancer much later or missed completely.  People will see their cancer, their health, and their overall prognosis begin to worsen.  Without urgent action we risk creating a cancer crisis for the future that will add even more strain on our under-pressure NHS.


“That is why Macmillan and our supporters are calling on governments in the four nations of the UK, to publish clear plans on how they are going to rework the system, and make the most of their existing health care infrastructure and facilities, to offer people with cancer the care they so urgently need.”


Macmillan is providing vital information and support during the coronavirus outbreak.


Comprehensive information and support, including Macmillan’s latest guidance and advice on the impact of coronavirus on cancer care, is available at www.macmillan.org.uk.


The charity’s online community continues to provide invaluable emotional and peer support.


For anyone who needs them, the Macmillan Support Line is open Monday to Sunday between 8am-8pm on 0808 808 00 00.