A WOMAN from North Yorkshire undergoing pioneering treatment for cancer is urging people not to delay seeking medical help because they are concerned about the coronavirus.

Barbara Cox, 75, from Northallerton, started to suffer shortness of breath in July and was rushed to the James Cook University Hospital because it was thought she had contracted Covid-19.

But within three days she was diagnosed with small cell lung cancer.

Barbara, who used to be a healthcare assistant, is now the first patient within South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust to be treated using a newly approved method of combining an immunotherapy drug called Atezolizumab alongside her chemotherapy.

Immunotherapy is designed to stimulate the body’s immune system to fight cancer cells.

And Barbara said she is now so grateful she didn’t delay getting medical help. “I feel really pleased that I’m trying the new treatment and I hope it helps other people in the future,” she said.

“I cannot fault the team at South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. I have not had to wait for anything and they have all be kind and very supportive.

“If there is anyone out there that is feeling unwell please don’t delay seeking medical advice because you are worried about going in to hospital.

“I felt at ease the whole time I was on the ward and when I go in for my appointments and treatment I always feel safe,” she added.

Between March to August this year since the pandemic started and the lockdown was brought into operation the trust have carried on working with cancer patients, diagnosing 1,143 cancers and delivering 915 ‘first’ cancer treatments during that same period.

Dr Talal Mansy, consultant medical oncologist, said that despite the challenges through the coronavirus pandemic as soon as the NHS gave approval for the use of immunotherapy with the Atezolizumab drug alongside chemotherapy for small cell lung cancer, the trust’s pharmacy team, schedulers, outpatient and chemotherapy nurses all pulled together quickly to allow Barbara to be the first patient in the South Tees region to be able to be treated with this pioneering combination outside of trials.

Dr Mansy added: “Chemotherapy has always been used but recent trials have shown that combining chemotherapy with immunotherapy improves survival for patients further.

“It gives me the most pleasure knowing we are able to use new drugs as a soon as possible and that for Mrs Cox and all other small cell lung cancer patients, we can offer them the best possible treatments for their cancer.”

Trust staff say it is now imperative that patients do not delay in seeking urgent medical advice if they notice any cancer symptoms at all.

They insist patients do not have to be concerned and there is no reason to be put off going to their GP or hospital because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“It is really important that you still contact your GP and discuss your concerns if you believe you might have symptoms of cancer,”Dr Mansy said. “The chances are it is nothing serious, but finding it early makes it more treatable,” he added.