PHE has launched a new campaign focusing on improving early diagnosis of oesophageal and stomach cancer.
The campaign, 'Be Clear on Cancer', aims to raise awareness of key symptoms of the conditions, known as oesophago-gastric cancers. The symptoms include persistent heartburn and difficulty swallowing food. A survey commissioned by PHE to coincide with the launch of the campaign found that only 55 per cent of people would visit their general practice if they had heartburn for three or more weeks.
Professor Kevin Fenton, director of health and wellbeing at PHE: said: 'People may be reluctant to visit their doctor about persistent heartburn, thinking that it's something they just have to live with. But heartburn most days for three weeks or more could be a sign of cancer. The earlier cancer is diagnosed, the higher the chance of survival.'
The survey also found that 70 per cent of respondents did not know food sticking in the throat could be a sign of cancer, while 13 per cent said they were sure it is a symptom.
PHE estimates that 12,900 people in England are diagnosed with oesophago-gastric cancers annually, with approximately 10,200 people dying from the condition each year. Of these, it is thought that 90 per cent of cases are diagnosed in patients over the age of 50. The UK has the joint highest rate of oesophageal cancer in males and the highest number of oesophageal cancer cases in females in the EU.
Sean Duffy, clinical director for cancer at NHS England, said: 'Patients with possible early signs and symptoms should visit their GP so where necessary they can be referred for tests, and treatment can start quickly. Early diagnosis is a key focus for us and will form part of the NHS's new five year strategy for cancer, currently being developed by an independent taskforce.'
The major causes of oesophago-gastric cancers include smoking, lack of fruit and vegetables in a diet, obesity and regular alcohol consumption.
The campaign will run until the end of February, and will use television and radio advertising across England to improve awareness of oesophago-gastric cancers.