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Acting early on cancer signs this New Year can save lives

The Irish Cancer Society is urging the public to prioritise their health this New Year by going to their doctor about any worrying changes in their body. 

The call comes amid concern over the estimated 1 in 10 expected cases of cancer that were not recorded in the first year of the pandemic in 2020, when access to healthcare was temporarily disrupted.

This has prompted concerns that if people who noticed issues with their health throughout the pandemic do not seek help it could lead to cancers progressing further, and becoming harder to treat as a result.

Acting early is key, according to Irish Cancer Society Director of Advocacy Rachel Morrogh, who revealed that the charity’s Your Health Matters roadshow offering free health checks to the public will visit 30 locations around the country in 2023 to assist in this effort.

“We know that acting early when potential signs of cancer arise can save lives,” she said.

“We were delighted to be able to bring our Your Health Matters roadshow to 20 locations nationwide in 2022 with over 18,500 people seen, and we will be visiting even more areas in 2023.

“However, this is just one part of a big push that is needed to identify the many cases of cancer that have gone undetected during the pandemic. Recently published figures from the National Cancer Registry show that around 2,500 cases of cancer expected to be detected in 2020 were not picked up, and this reflects just the impact of the first year of the pandemic.

“That’s why we’re urging anyone who notices any changes in their body that are unusual for them, such as a new lump, sudden or drastic weight loss, or a persistent cough not to delay in speaking to their doctor. Healthcare services are available and they are there for this very reason, so you will not be turned away.

“Screening programmes like BreastCheck, CervicalCheck and BowelScreen are another valuable tool that help to pick up cancer early in people who may be showing no other symptoms, so it is vital that those who are eligible attend for screening when they are invited.

“Anyone with a concern or query about cancer can also contact the nurses on our Freephone Support Line at 1800 200 700 or, where they will receive free, non-judgemental information and advice.”

Early Detection

It can be difficult to spot early stage cancers because often there are very few signs if any, however by detecting tumours at the earliest possible stage, patients have the best possible chance of curative treatment and long-term survival.  Nine out of 10 people who are diagnosed with early stage bowel cancer, (stage 1) survive their disease for 5 years compared with only one out of 10 of those diagnosed at a late stage IV.  So it is so important to be aware of changes in your body which are unusual, unexplained or have lasted more than three weeks.

Changes to look out for: 

Unexplained changes

  • A lump or swelling. Make sure to check your whole body, not just your testicles or breasts.
  • Bleeding that is not normal for you. Coughing up blood or noticing it in your pee or poo is not normal. Neither is bleeding from your vagina between periods, after sex or after the menopause.
  • Weight loss. It is normal to see small weight changes over time. However, a big weight loss, not related to dieting, may be a sign of something more serious.
  • Pain that does not go away. If you feel pain for more than 4 weeks that you cannot explain, talk to your doctor about it.

Persistent changes

  • A cough, changes in your voice or feeling short of breath. Speak to your doctor if you have any of these problems for more than three weeks, especially if you are a smoker or ex-smoker.
  • A sore that does not heal. If a spot, wart or sore does not heal in a few weeks, get it checked by your doctor, even if it is painless.
  • Difficulty swallowing, indigestion or heartburn. It is not normal to have indigestion or heartburn that happens a lot or is very painful. Difficulty swallowing is not normal either. Get it checked by your doctor.
  • Bloating. If bloating does not go away within a few weeks talk to your doctor about it.
  • Mouth or tongue ulcer. Having a mouth or tongue ulcer for three weeks or more is not normal and needs to be checked by your doctor or dentist.

Unusual changes

  • A change in your bowel or bladder habits. If you have constipation, diarrhoea or problems passing urine for more than a few weeks, talk to your doctor.
  • A new mole or change to an existing mole. Get into the habit of checking your skin every month for new moles. Also, watch for changes in colour, shape and size of existing moles.
  • Any change in your breast. Get into the habit of looking at and feeling your breasts for changes in the shape, size, nipples and skin.

Cancer Screening

Cancer screening helps to identify cancers which may not show any signs or symptoms of cancer or are difficult to detect.  In Ireland, there are three free screening programmes, run by the National Screening Service:

  • Breast cancer screening.
  • Cervical cancer screening.
  • Bowel cancer screening.

Breast Cancer Screening:

Women aged between 50 and 69 are eligible for breast screening.  Breast screening involves having a mammogram of your breasts at a BreastCheck clinic or mobile screening unit. A mammogram is an x-ray of the breast used to find breast cancer when it is too small to see or feel.  Breast screening does not find all breast cancer. But screening has been proven to lower the number of women dying from breast cancer.  Your details should automatically be on our register. You can check that your name is on the register or update your details at  or Freephone 1800 45 45 55.  If you’re worried about breast cancer, speak to your GP for advice.

Cervical Cancer Screening:

A cervical screening test (previously known as a smear test) looks to see if you might be at greater risk of developing cervical cancer in the future. Women aged 25 to 65 are eligible for screening.  (Aged 25-29 every 3 years, and aged 30-65 every 5 years). If you are on the CervicalCheck register, you will be sent an invitation letter. You can check the CervicalCheck register or book a test at Freephone 1800 45 45 55 or visit 

You do not need to wait until you receive a letter to have a test. If your screening test is due or you missed your last test, you can go ahead and book a test with a GP or a clinic registered with Cervical Check. You do not need to be a patient of a particular GP or clinic to have your screening test done there.   Women with concerns or symptoms should visit their GP.

Bowel Cancer Screening:

People between the ages of 60 and 69 are invited to take a bowel screening test every 2 years.  Bowel screening aims to detect signs of bowel cancer at an early stage, where there are no symptoms. Screening involves taking a sample of your stool (poo) at home using a home test. The home test kit will be posted to you.  If you are on our register, you will be invited to take your first home screening test between your 60th and 62nd birthday.  You need to be on the bowel screening register before you’re sent an invitation to take a screening test.   If you haven’t received an invitation for bowel screening call Freephone 1800 45 45 55 to check if you’re on the register, or to add your details. You can also register for bowel screen online:

If you’re outside the current age range of BowelScreen but are worried about bowel cancer, speak to your GP for advice.

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Rachel Morrogh

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