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Some cancers are detected before any symptoms appear through NHS national screening programmes for cervical, breast and bowel cancer. That’s why it’s important to take up the offer of screening when you are invited.
If you report any of the symptoms mentioned on the previous page your GP will examine you and discuss your options. This may include a referral to a specialist consultant. However a referral does not necessarily mean you have cancer. Cancer can have the same symptoms as other common diseases and most people who are referred do not have cancer.
There are guidelines to help GPs know when to refer people to a specialist and how to decide the urgency of the referral.
Tests for suspected cancer may involve having x-rays, taking blood samples or a sample from the lump (a biopsy) for analysis or having a scan (there are several types of scans). The results of these tests can show whether you have cancer and if so, what type and how far advanced it is.
Once you have a diagnosis, the consultant can discuss treatment options and answer any questions you may have about the benefits and risks or any side effects associated with different treatments.
Treatment may aim to cure the cancer or control and delay its progress. Although your age may be taken into account when deciding which treatment options might be suitable for you, it is the stage of your cancer and your general health that are more important. Treatment decisions should not be based on your age alone.
The Equality Act 2010 (Age Exceptions) Order 2012 came into force on 1st October 2012 in relation to age discrimination. It applies to public services including the NHS but not to the financial services sector. It means that it is no longer lawful, without good and sufficient reason, to provide inferior services or refuse to provide them solely because of a person's age.
Common treatments include surgery, radiotherapy (using high energy rays to destroy cancer cells) and chemotherapy (using specialised drugs to destroy cancer cells). You can find more information about tests and treatments for different types of cancer on the NHS Choices website and from the cancer charities mentioned in the Further Information section.
The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) produces guidance for the NHS in England and Wales on diagnosis and treatment of a wide range of health conditions, including many types of cancer. You can search their website for the latest information. A patient version of each guideline is available on request or can be downloaded from their website. You can find out how to contact them in the Further Information section.
The Cancer Reform Strategy explains the progress made since 2000 in improving the diagnosis and treatment of cancer in England and sets out a programme of action to improve cancer services.
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