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    YourGP’s Dr V. McBride heads to Holyrood to raise awareness of less survivable cancers

    YourGP’s Dr V. McBride heads to Holyrood to raise awareness of less survivable cancers

    Posted on January 26th, 2024

    Every year in the UK, around 393,000 people are diagnosed with cancer. Of those, more than 90,000 people are diagnosed with a less survivable cancer. These are not just statistics. These are real people whose lives are being turned upside down, and whose friends and family are feeling that impact too. Just like YourGP’s Dr V. McBride. In October 2021, one of her close family members was diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumour known as a glioblastoma multiforme. Here, Dr V. McBride talks openly and honestly about her family’s experience, and reveals how you can play your part in the fight to improve survivability…

    The subject of less survivable cancers is one close to your heart – can you explain why that is?

    In October 2021, a close family member was diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumour known as a glioblastoma multiforme. This was absolutely devastating. Having been a doctor for almost 20 years, I have been involved in the care of thousands of cancer patients. However, experiencing first-hand the myriad of difficulties cancer places on a family has provided a steep learning curve. I can understand why it is termed a “battle” with cancer as there are hurdles at every turn from the diagnosis and treatment itself, to employment and issues such as insurance and transport.

    The Brain Tumour Charity was invaluable to us. They provided advice and support on negotiating all these areas above. Over time, I became more aware of the need for increased awareness and funding for research for all of the less survivable cancers.

    What are the most common types of less survivable cancers?

    The six less survivable cancers are brain, liver, stomach, pancreatic, lung and oesophageal. Over 90,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with one of the less survivable cancers each year. Unfortunately, delay in the diagnosis of these cancers can have a detrimental effect on survival. If diagnosed at a late stage, they can be difficult or impossible to treat

    What are the typical symptoms associated with the most common less survivable cancers?

    One of the main problems with each of these cancers is the fact that the symptoms are often vague and non-specific. This can make it difficult to suspect a serious issue early on. The Less Survivable Taskforce website has fantastic information regarding symptoms to be aware of at

    I would encourage anyone with persistent symptoms such as recurrent or worsening headaches, problems swallowing, abdominal pain, cough, loss of appetite or unintentional weight loss explain to seek advice from a health professional.

    If someone is experiencing any of these symptoms, what should they do?

    Go and speak with their GP. Be open and honest with your doctor and let them know if you have concerns about cancer. Highlight it if you have a family history of cancer or if friends and loved ones have noticed that you appear unwell.

    Thankfully, most of the time, symptoms such as those described above will have a non-serious cause at the root of them. However, it is important to exclude more serious issues.

    Some cancers have seen remarkable progress in terms of survivability in recent years. Why do you think these particular less survivable cancers have not?

    I believe there are many reasons for this. As previously discussed, unfortunately many of the symptoms’ people with these cancers describe are very non-specific so it can be difficult to recognise these as sign of something more sinister. Thankfully due to effective screening programs, cancers such as breast, bowel and cervical can be picked up at an earlier stage. Currently, such programs are not possible for these less survivable cancers so a significant percentage are diagnosed late.

    There has also been a lack of funding and therefore research into the treatment of these cancers. For example, despite being the ninth most common cancer in the UK, brain tumour research represents less than 1.5% of the national spend on cancer.

    What is currently being done to improve survivability?

    I am pleased to say that in 2023, the Scottish Government published its 10-year cancer strategy and 3-year action plan that will guide improvements in cancer outcomes in Scotland for the foreseeable future. Goals include earlier diagnosis and equal access to safe, realistic, and effective treatments. This is no small task and involves a huge amount of work from all areas of health care. This includes supporting early recognition of symptoms in the GP practice all the way through to the researchers finding new treatments for these cancers.


    YourGP’s Dr V McBride heads to Holyrood to raise awareness of less survivable cancers

    You recently headed to Holyrood to urge the Scottish Government to do more to help. Talk us through what action you think they should take and what impact this could potentially have.

    Every year Less Survivable Cancers Awareness Day occurs on 11th January. This year I went to the Less Survivable Cancer event in Holyrood as a campaigner for The Brain Tumour charity. I was honoured to have the opportunity to give a speech to MSPs about these cancers and the actions needed to improve the outcomes and experience for all of those affected by these. The main areas I highlighted are the need for earlier diagnosis, more funding for research and optimising the care of those with less survivable cancers to minimise delays in accessing the best treatments and care. Ultimately the aim is to improve the survivability of these cancers.

    What can the general public do to help?

    Firstly, it is important to prioritise and take responsibility for our own health. While the risk of many cancers may run in families, 40% of cancers are preventable. The biggest risk factors for cancer, including the less survivable cancers that people can change are smoking, obesity, excess alcohol consumption and physical inactivity.

    If you wish to raise awareness of any of these cancers, you can engage in activities such as sharing information on social media or participating in fundraising events. The key to tackling these cancers will be education and open conversations about prevention, early detection and support for those affected by the diseases.

    What support is available for those affected by less survivable cancers?

    The General Practice team in most areas are hopefully able to provide much needed support and care for patients and families affected by these devastating diseases. Key charities that can give support specifically for the less survivable cancers include the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation, The Brain Tumour Charity, Guts UK, Pancreatic Care UK and the British Liver Trust.

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