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Polite Britons risk late cancer diagnosis

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Almost forty per cent of British people would put off going to their GP with cancer symptoms because they don’t want to bother the doctor, reveals a survey published online in the British Journal of Cancer (BJC) and presented at the NCRI Cancer Conference in Birmingham today (Wednesday).

They would also delay making an appointment because they were too embarrassed, scared, worried about what their doctor might find or too busy.

Women are more “worried about wasting their doctor’s time” with 41 per cent admitting they would delay the visit for that reason, compared with 36 per cent of men.

Forty per cent of women and 34 per cent of men also said they would put off making an appointment because they are worried about what the doctor might find.

The Cancer Research UK survey – known as the Cancer Awareness Measure (CAM) – is the first in the world to set a national standard method for measuring awareness of cancer symptoms and care.

The figures are part of the National Awareness and Early Diagnosis Initiative (NAEDI) supplement that will be published in the BJC later this year, which for the fist time will bring together the research underpinning the initiative.

Researchers randomly selected 3,600 people from across the UK, of whom over 2,200 were interviewed face-to-face.

Professor Jane Wardle, from Cancer Research UK’s Health Behaviour Research Centre based at University College London, said: “If we were to carry out this survey in other countries, I suspect that the results might be different – because it is a typical British characteristic to dismiss symptoms as trivial and think “I mustn’t bother the doctor”.

“But when this etiquette stops us talking to the GP about potentially serious symptoms, it can be dangerous.

“A lot of work now needs to be done to help people feel like they can go to their doctor as soon as they find something that could be a symptom of cancer.

“Changes to public attitudes along with changes within the healthcare system will be fundamental to making a difference.

“Cancer is more likely to be treated successfully when it’s spotted early, so it’s crucial that we do something with the results of this survey quickly.”

People from more deprived areas cited different reasons why they would delay, such as being too embarrassed or being worried that they might have cancer.

More affluent people said they were more concerned about the practical barriers, like being too busy and having too many other things to worry about.

Sara Hiom, Cancer Research UK’s director of health information who worked on the survey, said: “We believe that thousands of deaths could be avoided each year in the UK if cancers were diagnosed earlier. We wanted to find out why we were behind the best in Europe on early diagnosis.

“This survey will be a baseline for understanding why people sometimes put off such a crucial appointment, and for measuring the effect of any initiatives that aim to fix this problem.

“Cancer Research UK is working closely with the Department of Health and NHS to improve cancer survival through earlier diagnosis as part of a major national initiative called the National Awareness and Early Diagnosis Initiative.”


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