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People from poor backgrounds least likely to know cancer symptoms

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by Cancer Research UK | News

25 June 2007

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People from least privileged backgrounds are consistently around 20 per cent less likely to recognise cancer symptoms than those from more affluent backgrounds – according to a Cancer Research UK survey.

Overall men were worse than women at recognising symptoms – except for difficulty in passing urine.

The most affluent people were almost always around 20 per cent more likely to recognise cancer symptoms. And they were 24 per cent more likely to know that any mole changes could be a sign of cancer than the least privileged.

More than half (51 per cent) of the most affluent knew that unexplained pain lasting longer than four weeks could be a sign of cancer. But only just over a quarter (28 per cent) of the least affluent recognised this as a possible symptom.

To improve awareness Cancer Research UK has produced two versions of a leaflet describing some common signs and symptoms of cancer, one for men and one for women, called Wish you knew the signs of cancer?

Dr Lesley Walker, Cancer Research UK’s director of cancer information, said: “One of the most worrying things that this survey reveals is the considerably lower level of awareness among people from less privileged backgrounds. And we know that less affluent people are at greater risk of some types of cancer. For instance smoking is more prevalent among lower income groups and is a major risk factor for at least 12 types of cancer.

“This inability to recognise what might be a sign of cancer among more socio-economically deprived groups highlights what can be seen as a ‘great divide’ among cancer patients in our society.”

The survey, commissioned as part of Cancer Research UK’s Reduce the Risk campaign, questioned around 4,300 people throughout the country.

Most people failed to recognise that the following symptoms could be cancer:

  • a cough, croaky voice or difficulty swallowing
  • a sore that will not heal a change to looser or more frequent bowel motions
  • bleeding from the vagina after the menopause or between periods
  • unexplained pain lasting longer than four weeks
  • difficulty passing urine

But the majority of those questioned did recognise these could be symptoms of cancer:

  • a new or unusual lump or swelling
  • a change in a mole
  • blood in urine or bowel motions
  • unexplained weight loss

Dr Walker added: “We know that cancer survival among the less affluent members of society is not as good as among the more privileged. And because survival so often depends on catching cancer early it is vital that people know the signs and symptoms of the disease.”


For media enquiries please contact the press office on 020 7061 8300, or the out of hours duty press officer on 07050 264059.

Notes to Editor:

* Wish you knew the signs of cancer? – the leaflets are free and can be ordered online at: or by calling 020 7061 8333. Back to top

More than half all cases of cancer can be prevented according to Cancer Research UK’s Reduce the Risk campaign.

The campaign’s key messages are:

  • Stop smoking: It’s the best present you’ll ever give yourself
  • Stay in shape: Be active and keep a healthy body weight
  • Eat and drink healthily: Limit alcohol and choose a balanced diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables
  • Be SunSmart: Protect yourself in the sun and take care not to burn
  • Look after number one: Know your body and see your doctor about anything unusual. Go for screening when invited