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Early diagnosis can save lives

embarrassing-health-problems-mainIf the thought of telling your GP about some troubling medical problems is making you blush, it’s time you got over it.

‘Doctors have been trained to deal with embarrassing conditions,’ says GP, Dr Emma-Jane Down. ‘We are used to examining private parts and have always seen it many times before. Nothing you show or ask your doctor will shock them. The sooner you realise that the better. It may save your life.’




Early diagnosis

According to the National Cancer Intelligence Network one in four cases of cancer is not diagnosed until the patient reaches A&E with symptoms that are usually advanced.

Getting symptoms investigated sooner rather than later greatly improves your chances of survival. For example, colon cancer if found at stage 1 has a 74 per cent  five-year survival rate, compared to only six per cent  if detected late when the cancer is at stage 4. 

It’s equally important you take part in  NHS screening appointments for breast, cervical cancer and, bowel cancer. Regular blood pressure, cholesterol, urine and weight checks can help detect potential risk factors for heart and circulatory disease, as well as type 2 diabetes.

Embarrassing problems

Illnesses patients are most reluctant to mention to their doctors, according to Dr Down, are mostly about the genitals including erectile dysfunction, lumps in the testicles and abnormal vaginal bleeding or pain, as well as bowel problems, breast lumps, incontinence, acne and mental health.

Others include warts on the penis, vagina or anus, bad breath, body odour, crabs, a curving penis, dandruff, excessive sweating, hair loss, an itchy bottom, vaginal discharge, smelly feet, wind and incontinence.

Symptoms you should never ignore

Certain red flag symptoms are sometimes early warning signs of cancer and other serious illnesses. These include:

  • Testicles: ‘If you find a new lump it needs to be examined by the doctor. There are many benign causes for lumps but occasionally it may be testicular cancer,’ advises Dr Down. ‘It has a brilliant survival rate. Almost 100 per cent of men survive after five years if it has not spread when it is diagnosed.’
  • Breasts: ‘A new lump in the breast should always be examined by the doctor. It may be only a benign cyst but cancer needs to be excluded first,’ explains Dr Down. ‘If breast cancer is found early it can avoid the need for the whole breast to be removed. Stage 0 breast cancer corresponds with a 93 per cent five-year survival rate, but only 15 per cent if found late at stage 4.’
  • Vagina: ‘Any new lumps, discharge or abnormal bleeding needs to be seen by the doctor. Cancers can occur in this area but infections can also cause infertility and other problems, so get it treated early.’
  • Bowel: ‘New diarrhoea or bleeding/blood in the stool lasting longer than four to six weeks needs to be sorted out early because sometimes it’s the first sign of bowel cancer,’ says Dr Down. 
  • Urination: ‘Men with poor urine stream or passing urine more frequently are often developing a prostate problem,’ she says. ‘This can be benign requiring a simple tablet that can really help. Sometimes it is due to prostate cancer that can be cured if detected early.’
  • Erectile dysfunction:  ‘This is usually psychological and can often be easily treated,” says Dr Down. “Occasionally it can point towards a more serious underlying cause such as high blood pressure, diabetes or vascular disease.’
  • Chest pains/breathlessness: These can be signs of angina and other heart problems – so always mention them to your doctor.

How to get over your embarrassment

‘A GP should make it easy for you to talk to them without being embarrassed,’ says Dr Down. ‘Remember that everything you tell them is confidential, so you shouldn’t worry about your private information being shared with anyone else.’

Try some of these strategies:

  • See a different doctor:  Ask to see a different GP or a locum at your practice. ‘Or you could go to a walk-in centre, where you do not know the doctors personally,’ suggests Dr Down.
  • Consult a doctor of the same sex: Seeing a male doctor may help men feel more comfortable, and likewise for females.
  • Ask for a phone consultation: Most surgeries have a telephone consultation option, so you can talk to the doctor without seeing them face to face. This may help break the ice so that you are more comfortable when the doctor examines you.
  • Make an appointment with the practice nurse: If it makes you feel more comfortable, the nurse can ask the doctor for help, if needed.
  • Go prepared: Write down any questions before seeing the doctor so you don’t forget them if you are nervous or scared.
  • Keep it brief with reception: Just say you need an appointment and the reason is private.

For more information on these different conditions why not browse our online fact sheets?  In addition if you have any specific questions why not ask one of our online experts and they’ll respond in a couple of days.



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