Dr Phillip Abiola is a Macmillan GP and the clinical cancer lead in Newham CCG. He has been a GP, working in London, for 16 years and is passionate about promoting early diagnosis and cancer screening as well as raising awareness of cardiovascular diseases in the black community including regular appearances as a media medic on African Caribbean TV.
Tell us about Public Health England’s most recent Be Clear on Cancer campaign
The current campaign urges people to see a GP if they have breathlessness or a persistent cough, as these are key symptoms of lung cancer, heart disease and lung disease which cause more than 150,000 deaths in England each year. We really want to encourage people with either of these symptoms to visit their GP without delay, as earlier diagnosis makes the conditions more treatable.
Why is this campaign focusing on three different diseases together – lung cancer, heart disease and lung disease?
The symptoms unite these three diseases. A persistent cough for three weeks or more could be a sign of lung disease, including cancer. Getting out of breath doing things you used to be able to do, could be a sign of lung or heart disease, or even cancer.
Why are you supporting the Be Clear on Cancer campaign?
This campaign exemplifies what I’ve been advocating for years as a GP. Not only is it helping people to identify early warning signs of serious diseases. It’s proactively trying to engage black and Asian communities to be aware of the importance of early diagnosis, in a culturally relevant way. I’ve been involved in other Be Clear on Cancer campaigns, the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive and encouraging. Patients in my surgery have personally told me that they’ve seen me in the media talking about the campaign and have acted on the information as result. Ultimately this campaign is trying to save lives and I want to be part of that.
Why do you think our community needs to be targeted by this campaign?
Simply – our community is being affected by these diseases. Over the years, I have encountered black patients that have had lung cancer or are living with heart disease or lung disease. I do a lot of talks in the community and it’s evident that there is still a lack of knowledge about these diseases, in particular cancer. Lack of knowledge and cultural issues often leads to late presentation to the GP which results in poorer outcomes and sometimes death.
What do you think prevents black people from seeing their doctor early?
There are a wide range of reasons which includes: a view that they will be wasting the doctor’s time, previous bad experience of health services, more likely to rely on herbal and/ or traditional remedies. Also, they may perceive the symptom they are experiencing is nothing serious so they ignore it. Sometimes fear of finding out something serious is wrong or some religious people prefer to seek advice from a religious leader which can also cause a delay in diagnosis.
Are black people’s attitudes towards cancer changing?
Yes, attitudes are changing and getting better but there’s still a long way to go. Campaigns like this are helping people to talk about cancer and other diseases openly, making it less of a taboo. We need to continue educating, talking and reaching out in our community.
If you find yourself getting out of breath doing things you used to be able to do, or if you have a cough that has lasted for three weeks or more, go and see your doctor. You’ve got nothing to lose if it isn’t serious and it will put your mind at rest.