More than half of people in deprived areas of Wales did not contact their GP with possible cancer symptoms, research has found. A study by Cancer Research UK found that the most common reason people gave for putting off or delaying contacting their GP about any concerning symptoms was due to the difficulty in getting an appointment.

However, early diagnosis can save your life, something that Tony Gillard from Aberdare knows all too well. He was diagnosed with kidney cancer a week before his retirement as a project engineer in 2008.

The grandfather of three and great-grandfather of four knew something was amiss when he noticed blood in his urine. Tony, 79, recalled: "I left my desk and went quite normally to the gent's toilet and noticed in the urinal that things didn't appear right. I thought that the colour of my urine could have been because I'd eaten beetroot the night before. Looking back, I had noticed pain in my right side but hadn't thought much about it."

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Tony called his wife, Linda, who urged him to get checked out straight away. He said: "I had an ultrasound at the hospital and found out I had kidney cancer. Thinking the worst, I asked the doctor, 'how long do I have left'? " At the age of 64, Tony underwent an MRI to determine if the cancer had spread before having surgery to remove his kidney. Fortunately, the cancer was confined to his kidney.

He shared: "I decided to book a holiday to Spain with all my family and a few days earlier I received the best news - that the surgery was a success, and I was cancer free." Now, 15 years later, Tony is still cancer-free and thriving, attributing his diagnosis to a complete lifestyle overhaul.

Tony with his wife Linda
Tony with his wife Linda

"Before I was diagnosed, I weighed 17 stone," he said. "Having cancer was a real wakeup call so I decided to change my lifestyle. I joined Slimming World and managed to reduce my weight to 12 and a half stone." Get the best user experience with WalesOnline’s Premium app on Apple or Android

In addition to losing weight, Tony became an avid runner and committed to walking 10,000 steps a day. He participated in Cancer Research UK's Race for Life last year and plans to join again this year on May 5 at Bute Park, alongside his son Michael to celebrate his 80th birthday.

He concluded: "So here I am more than 15 years later, almost 80, and fitter than ever. I'll be running Race for Life in Cardiff with my son who is 55 years old, and he'll probably struggle to keep up with me!"

Tony is eager to share his experience, hoping it will prompt individuals with any unusual changes or potential cancer symptoms to reach out to their GP practice. He advised: "My advice is, as soon as things don't appear right, go and get checked. If I had ignored my symptoms, maybe I wouldn't be here now. If you're worried at all, speak to your doctor it could save your life."

Tony at the Race for Life start line
Tony has now transformed his lifestyle

Despite the high demand on GP surgeries, Cancer Research UK is encouraging individuals not to postpone contacting their doctor, as early detection of cancer significantly increases survival rates. For the latest health and Covid news, sign up to our newsletter here

A study by Cancer Research UK, which focused on people's experiences towards the end of last year, found other reasons for delaying or avoiding seeking help included not wanting to discuss symptoms with a receptionist/administrative person (15%), not wanting to be seen as someone who makes a fuss (14%) and concerns about symptoms not being taken seriously (14%).

Cancer Research UK's chief executive, Michelle Mitchell, expressed her concern:. "We're extremely concerned that many people in Wales who are experiencing potential cancer symptoms are not contacting their GP. It's vital people are diagnosed at an early stage, when treatment is more likely to be successful. If you are worried about any change that's unusual for you, your doctor wants to hear from you. If you're struggling to get an appointment, keep trying. In most cases, it will be a sign of something less serious, but if it is cancer, spotting it early can make all the difference."

Each year, approximately 19,800 individuals in Wales are informed that they have cancer, with the majority of cases being diagnosed in those aged 50 and above. If you've observed a change in your body that's unusual for you, get in touch with your GP practice.