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Public ignorance and fear add thousands to annual cancer death toll

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by Cancer Research UK | News

6 March 2012

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More than three quarters of people asked to list possible warning signs and symptoms of cancer failed to mention pain, coughing or problems with bowels or bladder according to a Cancer Research UK report, Delay Kills,* funded by Tesco and published today (Tuesday).

And more than two thirds of the 2090 people surveyed in Great Britain for the report also failed to list bleeding. Only around one quarter mentioned weight loss or mole changes as being a potential sign of cancer.

But even when people recognised signs they thought might be serious the survey found that nearly 40 per cent said they might delay getting symptoms checked out because they were worried what the doctor might find. And more than 25 per cent might delay because they feared wasting the doctor’s time.

Overwhelming failure to recognise common cancer symptoms, resulting in late diagnosis of the disease, is leading to thousands of avoidable cancer deaths – say cancer doctors.

These statistics have spurred a major new partnership between Cancer Research UK and Tesco, which will help scientists find ways to close the gap between survival rates in the UK and the best in Europe so thousands more will survive cancer in future.

Tesco will raise £10million to fund 32 early diagnosis research projects across the UK and will launch a new in-store customer awareness campaign. As a result of the new partnership Cancer Research UK leaflets on early signs of cancer will be on display at the store’s checkouts and available to the millions of customers who pass through each week.

Latest figures suggest that if Great Britain matched the best cancer survival rate in Europe around 11,500 deaths could be avoided. Experts believe a poor record in early diagnosis lies at the heart of why we lag behind.

Professor Peter Johnson, Cancer Research UK’s chief clinician, said: “Our report highlights just how much more we have to do to raise awareness about the early signs of cancer. Thanks to Tesco’s support our scientists can now focus on even more research to find out how we can get cancer diagnosed earlier and help many more people to survive cancer in the future.

“If patients are diagnosed when the cancer is still in its early stages before it has had a chance to spread to other parts of the body it is more likely that treatment will be successful. That is why it is so important for people to be aware of things that might be early signs of cancer.

“Of course we are all frightened of hearing that we may have cancer. But people need to know that catching the disease early gives them much better odds of surviving it. The best precaution anyone can take is to be on the lookout for any changes in their bodies that seem unusual for them and to get them checked by a doctor.

“We know that in many cases these things won’t turn out to be cancer. But don’t take the gamble of missing out on early diagnosis.”
Richard Brasher, Tesco UK’s chief executive, said: “Missing the early warning signs can result in late diagnosis of cancer, which leads to thousands of avoidable cancer deaths. At Tesco we are passionate about fighting cancer. Working with Cancer Research UK as our Charity of the Year we will work to get this message over to millions of our customers and raise a record £10m to help save more lives.”

Kay Bailey, 48 who works as a customer assistant for Tesco in Broadstairs, Kent, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in July 2010 after finding a lump in her neck, which she first thought might be glandular fever.

“I had been feeling a bit under the weather at the time as well, so I felt I needed to get myself checked out. After some tests I was stunned to be diagnosed with cancer. The thought had never entered my head. I could easily have put off going to see my GP but I knew the most sensible thing was to find out if anything was wrong, especially as I have four kids and a granddaughter – my family needs me.

“My advice to anyone now is: ‘listen to your body’ and if you are experiencing any unusual symptoms get them checked. We are all so busy these days, it can be hard to find the time, but it is so important.”

Kay is now doing well and back working at Tesco where she has been for 10 years.  “The company has been very flexible and supportive during my illness. And I’m so pleased it is working in partnership with Cancer Research UK and aims to raise £10m for research into early diagnosis.”
Keen runner Kay has raised more than £6,000 for Cancer Research UK herself over the years by taking part in several Race for Life events and five London marathons.


For media enquiries contact the Cancer Research UK press office on 020 3469 8300 or the out of hours’ duty press officer on 07050 264 059.