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Beckie, a girl in her mid-20s, standing in front of a canal in Prague, smiling at the camera. It's night time and the canal is lit up.

Visiting my GP practice during COVID-19: Beckie’s story

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Beckie, 25, attended her very first cervical screening appointment during the COVID-19 pandemic. Here, Beckie shares her experience of visiting her GP practice with the new measures in place and explains why it’s so important to attend an appointment if you’re invited.

Cervical cancer often has no early symptoms, which makes it difficult to spot when treatment can be most effective. Because of this, the best way to prevent and treat cervical cancer is by attending a cervical screening appointment when invited.

When I first received my invitation, my first port of call was Jo’s Trust; a cervical cancer charity aiming to provide useful and accurate information on cervical cancer to women and people with a cervix. In the UK, we are invited for a cervical screening appointment (you may have also heard of it being called a smear test) from the ages 25 to 64. Most people receive their first invite up to six months before their 25th birthday, which is exactly when one dropped through my letterbox, too.

Since then, a lot of NHS services have been put on hold or changed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, so my experience was a little different to what others may have had in the past. Cervical screening appointments, among other national screening programmes, are slowly returning to normality and so, on the 11th August, I jumped in the car and headed to Hessle Grange Medical Practice for my very first appointment.

When I arrived, I was met by signs asking patients to put on their face covering, as well as a hand sanitiser station for me to use. There were clear markings on the floor to show you where to stand to maintain social distancing, and the reception was guarded by a Perspex screen. Many of the waiting room chairs had been taped across so that those waiting could easily keep their distance from other patients.

I was directed to another waiting room, closer to where I’d have my appointment, and the seating again was well spaced out.

Beckie, a girl in her mid-20s,, smiling at the camera. She has blonde hair that's just longer than her shoulders, blue eyes and a piercing in her left nostril.

Beckie says her cervical screening appointment was too important to miss.

I was called into my appointment where the two nurses were also wearing face masks and protective gloves. They instantly made me feel so comfortable, as I’d heard a lot of different things about the cervical screening procedure which had left me feeling a little anxious.

The nurses carefully explained to me exactly what was going to happen and what I could expect to feel. Naturally, I was still feeling nervous but felt confident I was in good hands.

The full screening from start to finish lasted less than five minutes. As the sample was taken, I experienced less than 30 seconds of mild discomfort and felt no pain whatsoever. The nurses talked to me throughout to take my mind off of what was happening and I can honestly say the anxiety building up to the appointment completely outweighed the actual experience.

To others in my position, I would say that this appointment is too important to miss. A moment of slight discomfort is nothing compared to the damage and pain that cervical cancer could cause. For me, being in the know about what is going on with my body, and the fact that I don’t have a potentially life-threatening disease alleviates any worries I had about going to the appointment.

There is nothing embarrassing about doing this, and definitely nothing to worry about. I would encourage anyone who receives the letter to go to their appointment – it could be what saves your life!

Note from Humber, Coast and Vale Cancer Alliance

Cervical cancer is when abnormal cells in the lining of the cervix grow in an uncontrolled way and eventually form a growth or tumour. If not caught early, cancer cells gradually grow into the surrounding tissues and may spread to other areas of the body1. In Yorkshire and the Humber and Humber, Coast and Vale, 29% of cervical cancers are detected through screening2.

Cervical cancer often has no early symptoms, which is why it’s important to attend a cervical screening when you’re invited.

If you experience symptoms of cervical cancer at any time, even if you’ve recently attended a screening appointment, get in touch with your GP. Your symptoms might not be cancer, but you should never ignore them. For more information on cervical cancer, visit https://www.jostrust.org.uk/

Early diagnosis saves lives.

  1. Definition from Cancer Research UK: https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/cervical-cancer/about
  2. Statistic from Yorkshire Cancer Research’s Summary Report 2020

Famous faces urge public to speak to their GP about potential cancer symptoms

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Linda Nolan and Bill Turnbull are among the celebrities with cancer who have joined NHS doctors in urging the public to come forward for important checks.

The call comes after concerns were raised that people have delayed seeking help due to the coronavirus pandemic. It has been shown in the past that celebrities opening up about their cancer diagnoses has led to increases in referrals. Nearly half of the public have said they had concerns about seeking help in the midst of the outbreak, while one in 10 said they would not contact their GP even if they had a lump or a new mole.

Both Linda and her sister Anne, who were part of Irish family pop group The Nolans, recently announced that they had been diagnosed with cancer within days of each other. Linda, 61, has been undergoing treatment for liver cancer, while Anne, 69, has stage three breast cancer. Another sister, Bernie, died of breast cancer in 2013 at the age of 52.

Linda, who is receiving chemotherapy at Blackpool Victoria Hospital, said: “The care I have received has been nothing short of exceptional, and I know people up and down the country have had similar experiences of the heroic work the NHS and staff are doing to continue to deliver the vital care we all need, even as they deal with the ongoing pandemic.

“So, whilst it might seem daunting, it’s important people know they can feel absolutely safe in the hands of the NHS going in for treatments.”

Hospitals have put in extensive measures so patients can get safely tested and treated, and Linda added: “If there is care or treatment you need, don’t delay, and contact your GP or NHS 111 to ask about any symptoms.

“It’s so important people get checked out when they need to. Cancer doesn’t wait, and timing is everything. It might be the very thing that makes all the difference.”

There has been a sharp drop in the number of people coming forward for cancer checks, with 141,643 referred in June compared with almost 200,000 during the same period last year.

Former BBC Breakfast star Bill Turnbull first talked about his diagnosis in 2018, which led to a 36% jump in people being referred for prostate cancer, and it is now the most common cancer in the country. He said: “Cancer is a cruel disease and unfortunately it did not disappear during the coronavirus outbreak. We know that it’s all too easy to put something like this off, but please do contact the NHS if you have any signs of cancer.”

Radio presenter and writer Deborah James, known as “Bowel Babe”, has been sharing her experiences about safely continuing treatment at the Royal Marsden on Twitter. She said: “While coronavirus is the new big C in everyone’s lives, it doesn’t stop cancer killing people, too. It’s still a threat and not just for those who are already diagnosed – you must check yourself for symptoms.

“For anyone who is worried about having their treatment during this time, the NHS is still there for people like me and you – it might look slightly different but the staff and the care remain the same.”

Professor Peter Johnson, NHS clinical director for cancer, said that waiting to get help can have serious health consequences now and in the future.

He said: “We cannot let Covid become a reason for people not to get checked for cancer – NHS staff up and down the country have worked very hard to make sure that tests and treatment can go ahead quickly and safely.

“Cancers are detected earlier and lives are saved if more people are referred for checks, so our message to you is to come forward – it could save your life.”

Head and shoulder photo of Dr Rumina Önaç, GP and Green Impact for Health lead at The Old School Medical Practice. Dr Onac has her black hair tied back and is wearing glasses. She is looking at the camera and smiling.

Vale of York GP shares experience of adapting to change during coronavirus pandemic

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Dr Rumina Önaç, GP and Green Impact for Health lead at The Old School Medical Practice in York has shared her detailed experience of caring for patients during the coronavirus pandemic.

In a blog article posted on the NHS Vale of York Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) website, Dr Önaç gives an open account of the challenges, irritations and positive outcomes which have impacted on how the primary care environment works.

Head and shoulder photo of Dr Rumina Önaç, GP and Green Impact for Health lead at The Old School Medical Practice. Dr Onac has her black hair tied back and is wearing glasses. She is looking at the camera and smiling.

Dr Önaç said: “Whilst lockdown forced the swift reconfiguration of our appointment lists, surgeries worked incredibly hard to find workarounds enabling us to continue to care for patients and protect staff, despite the restrictions.

“Walking through deserted waiting rooms, seeing closed doors and ‘no entry’ signs everywhere, deliberately keeping patients waiting outside rather than welcoming them into our buildings, and avoiding physical contact wherever possible. No human touch. That goes against everything it means to be a doctor!”

However an understanding of patients’ needs has allowed Dr Önaç and her colleagues across practices in the Vale of York to keep up a positive relationship with their patients. She said:

“We’re lucky to get to know patients and families over a number of years, gaining an insight into not just their symptoms but their background, support network, and their highs and lows. This means we have a lot of very useful information to knit together when we’re trying to help patients shape solutions for whatever it is that might be worrying them.”

New ways of working have been put in place within GP surgeries, including an increased uptake of video and telephone appointments. This has enabled concerned patients to be seen without having to leave home and travel to a surgery. Dr Önaç explains some of the other ways patient care has continued:

“Medicines are being dispensed through reception hatch windows at The Old School Medical Practice, or even home-deliveries for some very rural patients up in Stillington, and plenty of consultations have been done through glass doors or windows.”

Dr Önaç also mentions those patients who will have missed the face-to face interaction with their GP practice, such as those with long term conditions, who often feel more of a benefit and reassurance from seeing their nurse or GP in person.

“Staff roles have altered, there have been lists solely devoted to ringing patients with chronic conditions to provide reassurance and offer alternatives like vitamin B12 tablets instead of 3-monthly injections, and reception staff have been key in explaining what to expect when visiting the surgery for patients who do end up coming down for face-to-face appointments. Teams have devised drive-through blood taking clinics and immunisation clinics”

Dr Önaç predicts that the overwhelming camaraderie and enthusiasm to create new ways of doing things will outlast this pandemic, a demonstration of the how well all primary care staff have adapted to new roles and responsibilities to keep primary care running as safely and smoothly as possible.

“Whatever the ‘new normal’ looks like, whenever it occurs, it’s gladdening to know that some of the changes we’ve made are truly improvements that will benefit patients and staff alike, and we should be very proud not only of Primary Care’s swift response to the pandemic, but of our subsequent and ongoing innovation.”

To read the blog ‘Dr Rumina Önaç – After the apocalypse’ in full please visit the NHS Vale of York CCG website: www.valeofyorkccg.nhs.uk/after-the-apocalypse/

Free online sessions launched to raise cancer awareness and help save lives through early diagnosis.

By | Awareness and Early Diagnosis, Cancer Champions

Humber, Coast and Vale Cancer Alliance has launched free online Cancer Champion sessions to help raise awareness of the signs and symptoms of cancer and encourage early detection within local communities.

Individuals across Hull, York, East Riding of Yorkshire, North Lincolnshire, Scarborough and Ryedale can now register for free one hour Cancer Champion sessions, which teach people about the key facts, statistics, symptoms and screenings for a number of cancers.

Each week, 78 families within the Humber, Coast and Vale region lose a loved one to cancer. The Cancer Champion Programme aims to save lives by promoting healthy lifestyle choices and encouraging early detection of cancer, when treatment could be simpler and more successful.

Emma Lewin, Volunteer Co-ordinator for the Cancer Champion Programme, said: “We originally launched the Cancer Champion Programme in September 2018 and have so far trained over 1,800 people however, since the beginning of lockdown we have been unable to deliver our regular face-to-face sessions. We have now adapted our workshops to be able to offer the same service virtually.

“Cancer Champions are equipped with the knowledge needed to raise awareness about cancer, engage in conversations which could help to reduce the risk of cancer and encourage early diagnosis.

“Our online sessions are easily accessible and everyone who completes the course will receive a copy of our virtual handbook, a certificate and complimentary badge.”

Dr Dan Cottingham, Cancer Research UK GP Lead for Humber, Coast and Vale Cancer Alliance, explained why the Cancer Champion training sessions are so important: “We know that diagnosing cancer early can save lives, but during the COVID-19 pandemic fewer people came forward to speak to us when experiencing early symptoms of cancer.

“Cancer Champion awareness sessions support members of our communities to talk about cancer and encourage others to uptake cancer screening invitations or contact their GP if they have any concerning symptoms.”

The introduction of the virtual Cancer Champion training means there are now cancer awareness sessions available in all areas of Humber, Coast and Vale – with a similar service established in North East Lincolnshire.  Care Plus Group are offering virtual Cancer Champion training to individuals within North East Lincolnshire. For more information about Care Plus Group Cancer Champion training, please email CPG.collaborative@nhs.net

To sign up for a Humber, Coast and Vale Cancer Champion Awareness session, visit: www.hcvcanceralliance.org.uk/cancerchampions.

Carol Miller, founder of York Haematology Support group and Acute Myeloid Leukaemia survivor smiling and holding an award from the Lymphoma Association.

Visiting my GP surgery during COVID-19: Carol’s story

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York Haematology Support Group founder, Carol Miller was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukaemia in 2004. Since her diagnosis, Carol has used her experience with cancer treatment to help others going through the same thing. Here, Carol shares her experience of attending her GP surgery and hospitals for tests during the coronavirus pandemic:

In October, I was admitted into the hospital for aggressive chemotherapy treatment and then discharged on Christmas Eve 2004. Luckily enough, I was in remission. I relapsed in 2006 and had another six-week stay in York Hospital for yet more aggressive chemo, and went into remission again.

At that point, I was offered a mini bone marrow transplant at St James’ Hospital in Leeds but, as I have no siblings, I didn’t have a direct family match, so a donor was sourced from the Anthony Nolan list. The match wasn’t 100%, so I decided not to go ahead with the transplant. Luckily, that was the right decision for me, and I am still here to tell the tale!

My husband and I have been shielding throughout the COVID-19 lockdown, but I have had to attend the GP surgery several times for blood tests. My husband has also attended a hospital appointment since the start of the COVID pandemic.

Carol Miller, founder of York Haematology Support group and Acute Myeloid Leukaemia survivor smiling and holding an award from the Lymphoma Association.

Carol after receiving the Beacon of Hope Award from the Lymphoma Association.

At the beginning of lockdown, I went into my surgery for the blood test. I was asked to park my car and remain in the vehicle; a nurse would come out to the car to take my bloods. The procedure was quick and I felt very safe attending my appointment as the nurse was wearing full PPE.

Later on, during lockdown, I had to attend a Haematology Clinic for blood tests regarding my leukaemia. As I entered the hospital, my temperature was taken and I was asked to use the hand sanitiser provided. I was also given a mask to wear whilst at the hospital. I was seen very quickly and my bloods were taken as usual. A week after my appointment, I had a follow-up telephone call with the consultant, who informed me all was well. We also scheduled in a further appointment for four months time. Once again, I felt very safe and well looked after.

For my husband’s appointment at York Hospital, I was not allowed to go into the hospital with him. That being said, he was seen very quickly and had no problems at all. The hospital was managing appointments very well, and my husband didn’t come across another patient while he was there and managed to maintain social distancing.

Throughout both the treatments, the staff wore full PPE and I had my temperature taken both times, too.

I would advise other patients to never delay contacting their GP. You will be greeted in a very professional manager, and your appointment will be very efficient and safe. Any symptoms you are experiencing are at least worth a phone call. Your GP is not too busy and would always rather you express your concerns; they are there for you. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.

Both my husband and I have felt very safe whilst attending our GP surgery and the hospital and we would never risk leaving things. Speaking to your GP could save your life.

My support group

Both times I was admitted for treatment, I joined clinical trials. The drugs I trialled are now being used

A photo of York Haematology Support Group, taken at one of their meetings. There are around 25 attendees and Carol Miller, founder, sits at the centre of the group, at the back.

Taken at one of York Haematology Support Group’s meetings

to help patients with their treatment, which inspired me to try to set up a support group in York. This was initially for Leukaemia patients, but it quickly grew to cover all blood cancer patients. The clinical team during my treatment were very good at dealing with my illness, but they had not been through it themselves. With the York Haematology Support Group, I’ve found a way to use my cancer experience in a way that can positively help others. Experience is a wonderful thing.

We have now been running for nine years and the group has been very successful. We have approximately 25 – 35 members attending our monthly sessions (occurring the first Thursday of the month) and have been lucky to host a variety of very interesting speakers. We are supported by the Yorkshire and Humberside Haematology Network from the University of York, who have been fantastic.

If you’d like to know more about how support groups may be able to help you or someone you know, click here to go to the Humber, Coast and Vale Cancer Alliance’s support group directory.

A graphic to advertise Cervical Screening Awareness Week 2020, occurring 15th to 21st June. The Humber, Coast and Vale logo is in the bottom left of the image.

Safely restoring cervical screening services during COVID-19

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Monday 15 June to Sunday 21 June is Cervical Screening Awareness Week and although NHS cervical screening services have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic, colleagues across the Humber Coast and Vale Cancer Alliance (HCV CA) are working hard to ensure services are restored in a consistent and safe way.

Women and people with a cervix aged 25 to 49 are invited for a cervical screening every 3 years and those aged between 50-64 are invited every 5 years. During the appointment, a small sample of cells is taken from the cervix and cervical screening looks for the human papillomavirus (HPV) which can cause abnormal cells on the cervix. It is not a test for cancer, it’s a test to help prevent cancer.

Following the COVID-19 outbreak, some NHS cervical screening invitations or appointments were rescheduled to a later date due to operational reasons and to minimise risk to patients. However, plans are being developed to ensure NHS Cervical Screening Programme services can operate fully as soon as is safe to do so. Screening invitations are already being sent out, the first going to higher-risk individuals or anyone who has had an appointment delayed due to the pandemic.

Dan Cottingham, Primary Care GP Lead at HCV CA said:

“As cervical cancer develops slowly in the majority of cases, delaying a routine test for a short time is highly unlikely to affect most individual health outcomes. However, if you are having symptoms such as:

• bleeding between periods, during or after sex, or after the menopause
• changes to vaginal discharge

“It is important to get clinical advice. It does not mean you have cervical cancer. Please call your GP, even if you have had a normal cervical screening test. Don’t wait until you have your next cervical screen.”

For further support and advice contact the Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust Helpline (0808 802 8000) or visit: www.jostrust.org.uk/information/coronavirus

An image of Dan Cottingham, Cancer and End of Life Lead at NHS Vale of York

70% drop in Vale of York Cancer referrals as doctors urge people to visit their GP

By | Awareness and Early Diagnosis, Cancer Alliance, Diagnostics | No Comments

NHS Vale of York Clinical Commissioning Group, York Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and GP Practices from the Humber, Coast and Vale Cancer Alliance are working together to ensure cancer services continue safely, urging people not to delay seeking help if they notice any signs and symptoms of cancer.

Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, across the Vale of York, there has been a 70% reduction in two-week referrals from GP practices to secondary care. A statistic which is extremely worrying to health professionals as they witness fewer patients making appointments to express their health concerns.

Dr Dan Cottingham, Cancer and End of Life Lead at NHS Vale of York Clinical Commissioning Group said:

Cancer hasn’t gone away because of coronavirus. There will still be people in our community experiencing signs and symptoms of cancer such as the sudden appearance of a lump, blood in their urine, or a change to usual bowel habits - and so it is vital these people contact their GP practice so a doctor can investigate and refer to a specialist if necessary.

GP appointments are still available for patients to talk through any concerns over the phone or via an online video consultation, and are working closely with cancer specialist teams at York and Scarborough hospitals to ensure urgent cases continue to be seen promptly.”

Accessing a GP has changed during the pandemic but GP practices are continuing to provide the same safe care they always have done.

People who are referred into York hospital for treatment or who are already on a course of treatment can expect the same quality of care, the way that care now looks however may have changed due to the restrictions of the pandemic.  York Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust has redesigned services to enable the safe continuation of quality care during the pandemic.

Laura Milburn, Head of Cancer at York Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, said:

It is vital that patients experiencing concerning symptoms, especially those that could be cancer, contact their GPs for assessment during the pandemic.

GP and hospital services have had to change significantly to manage the impact of the pandemic but we want to reassure patients who are referred into our hospitals for investigation that we are still providing the same quality of care, just in a different way, ensuring all the appropriate measures in line with government guidance are in place to keep patients safe when accessing services.”

To support with cancer referrals and ongoing cancer services in the Vale of York area, the Humber, Coast and Vale (HCV) Cancer Alliance has accelerated the procurement of home working stations within our region to report from home during Covid-19.

Dr Oliver Byass, Clinical Director for Radiology, Humber, Coast and Vale Cancer Alliance said:

The collaborative reporting solution sits above our independent picture archiving and communication system (PACS) and work stations within our hospitals and will allow us, as individual radiologists, to report the ‘right test first time’ seamlessly across our organisations and this is going to be transformational as to how we work in the future.

Our work in modern radiology is a lot about diagnostics and trying to get the patient diagnosis both safely and as quickly as possible and we are very fortunate that modern radiology, CT, MRI and ultrasound have amazing diagnostic capabilities.”

For more information on seeking help during Covid-19, read our blog on what to do about possible cancer symptoms.

Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month

By | Awareness and Early Diagnosis

March is World Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. Ovarian cancer, or cancer of the ovaries, is one of the most common types of cancer in women. Here you can find the symptoms of ovarian cancer as well as information and support.

Symptoms

The most common symptoms of ovarian cancer are:

  • feeling constantly bloated
  • a swollen tummy
  • discomfort in your tummy or pelvic area
  • feeling full quickly when eating, or loss of appetite
  • needing to pee more often or more urgently than usual

These can be similar to symptoms of other more common conditions, but if you’re worried about any changes in your body, please see your GP.

If you have already seen a GP and your symptoms continue or get worse, go back to them and explain this.

Information and Support

If you would like more information about diagnosis and support, please click on one of the following links.

Macmillan Cancer Support

NHS Website

Target Ovarian Cancer

Related Stories and Media

The Target Ovarian Cancer free symptoms diary is an easy way to accurately record your symptoms and communicate more effectively with your GP.

Click here to download a copy of the Symptom Diary.

Cancer Champion Training

Cancer Champions raise awareness of the signs and symptoms of cancer, promote national screening programmes and encourage early detection.

Take part in a free Cancer Champion training session and help up raise awareness this Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month.

For more information and to register your place, click here.

Brain Tumour Awareness Month

By | Awareness and Early Diagnosis

March is Brain Tumour Awareness Month.  Almost 11,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with a brain tumour each year. Here you can find the symptoms of a brain tumour as well as information and support.

Symptoms

The symptoms of a brain tumour depend on where it is in the brain. Common symptoms include:

  • headaches (often worse in the morning and when coughing or straining)
  • fits (seizures)
  • regularly feeling sick or vomiting
  • memory problems or changes in personality
  • weakness, vision problems or speech problems that get worse

If you have symptoms of a brain tumour that don’t go away, make an appointment with your GP.

Information and Support

If you would like more information about diagnosis and support, please click on the following links.

Macmillan Cancer Support

NHS Website

The Brain Tumour Charity

Related Stories and Media

More support for patients diagnosed with a brain tumour

A new support group has been set up to help patients diagnosed with a brain tumour and their carers. Hull University Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust’s Living with and Beyond Cancer Team has begun running the monthly sessions to provide practical advice and emotional support to patients and their loved ones. Click here to read more.

Cancer Champion Training

Cancer Champions raise awareness of the signs and symptoms of cancer, promote national screening programmes and encourage early detection.

Take part in a free Cancer Champion training session and help us raise awareness of cancer this Brain Tumour Awareness Month.

For more information and to register your place, click here.

Prostate Cancer Awareness Month

By | Awareness and Early Diagnosis

March is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month. Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men in the UK. Here you can find the symptoms of prostate cancer as well as information and support.

Symptoms

Most prostate problems are not caused by cancer, but it’s good to be aware of the following symptoms:

  • Difficulty peeing (for example, a weak flow or having to strain to start peeing).
  • Needing to pee 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 pee or semen.
  • Rarely, pain when peeing or ejaculating.

These symptoms are usually caused by non-cancerous changes in the prostate rather than by cancer. However, if you have any of these symptoms make an appointment with your GP.

Information and Support

If you would like more information about diagnosis and support, please click on the following links.

Macmillan Cancer Support

NHS Website

Prostate Cancer UK

Related Stories and Media

Macmillan has launched the Talking Cancer podcast to be right there with the growing number of people living with and affected by cancer.

In episode 3, Errol talks about his Prostate diagnosis and about how he’s now made it his life’s work to educate men about prostate cancer.

Click here to listen.

Become a Cancer Champion

Cancer Champions raise awareness of the signs and symptoms of cancer, promote national screening programmes and encourage early detection.

Take part in a free Cancer Champion training session and help up raise awareness this Prostate Cancer Awareness Month.

For more information and to register your place, click here.

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