World Cancer Day: signs and symptoms and ways to cut the risks

World Cancer Day: signs and symptoms and ways to cut the risks

At least one in three of us will get cancer, and with an increasing number of cases each year in Northern Ireland, the Public Health Agency (PHA) is using World Cancer Day (4 February) to raise awareness of signs and symptoms of cancer and encourage people to speak to their GP if they experience any of them.

Dr Miriam McCarthy, Consultant in Public Health Medicine at the PHA, said: “Whilst cancer can be a difficult topic to address, we need to talk about it. There are around 9,000 new cases of cancer diagnosed each year in Northern Ireland and only by talking about cancer openly can we improve outcomes.

“For many cancers there are symptoms, and we know that if cancer is diagnosed early, treatment is much more likely to be successful. 

“It is therefore important for everyone to be aware of warning signs which need to be investigated to ensure speedy diagnosis and treatment.”

Some examples of symptoms are:

  • coughing up blood or blood-stained phlegm (sputum);
  • a persistent cough (more than three weeks);
  • a mole which begins to change, such as getting larger or inflamed, or developing irregular edges;
  • blood in a bowel motion;
  • starting to bleed again after the menopause;
  • mouth ulcers that have not healed after three weeks;
  • food regularly seeming to stick on the way down when you swallow.

“If you experience any of these symptoms, speak to your GP. Some of the differences in survival rates in Northern Ireland compared with other countries may be due to patients presenting later to their GPs.” 

There are many things that people can do to reduce the risk, such as:

  • If you smoke, stop – visit for tips to help you quit;
  • Keep alcohol consumption within safe limits – see for advice;
  • Take regular exercise and aim to keep your weight within the recommended BMI range – has more information on simple steps that can help you with this;
  • Avoid getting sunburn – use sunscreen and a hat and don’t use sunbeds – see for more information.

“Northern Ireland also has excellent cancer screening programmes in place to help detect the first signs of cervical, breast and bowel cancer.  So in addition to being aware of signs and symptoms at all times, I would encourage everyone to go for screening when it’s offered,” concluded Dr McCarthy.

The PHA has developed a comprehensive website at which provides information about cancer signs and symptoms, explains what to do if you’re concerned, and signposts to recommended sources of support or further information. 

For more information on Northern Ireland screening programmes visit