Tackling cancer isn’t just about treatment.
More than four in 10 cases of cancer could be prevented by changes to lifestyle. And thousands more lives could be saved every year if the disease was detected and treated at an earlier stage.
But of course it’s not that simple. There are many reasons why people might not make a healthy lifestyle change or go to the doctor to get something checked out – including a lack of awareness, not knowing where to seek support, and fatalistic attitudes towards cancer.
And one of the biggest challenges we face is tackling inequalities. People from different cultural and socio-economic backgrounds can have very different knowledge and attitudes about cancer and what a healthy lifestyle means.
The single biggest preventable cause of cancer – smoking – is far more common among more deprived groups. And a report by the King’s Fund in 2012 highlighted the widening of the inequality gap in England and showed that the less well off and least educated people tend to have more unhealthy lifestyle habits.
Men and women from more deprived backgrounds are more likely to develop cancer and die from the disease. And this isn’t the whole story – we also see differences with age, sex, ethnicity and other factors.
A recent study estimated that 5,600 people each year in the UK are diagnosed with cancer at a late stage because of social and health inequalities like these.
To make the greatest possible impact in beating cancer, we need to ensure that everyone gets the information and support they need to help make positive changes for their health.
We’re on the road – talking to people about cancer
That’s why we’re going into the heart of communities and helping to raise cancer awareness, particularly among disadvantaged groups.
Our Cancer Awareness Roadshow was launched in 2006 thanks to our long-standing partnership with Ronan Keating and the Marie Keating Foundation.
We have four mobile units manned by staff, volunteers and local health workers. They are basically big vans that open up with a ramp so people can come onboard if they wish, although we often talk to people on the street too, when it’s not raining too much! Two of the units are currently funded by the Peter Andre Foundation.
Our nurses are trained to talk to people about ways to reduce the risk of cancer through lifestyle changes, and about the importance of early diagnosis and going to the GP promptly with any concerns.
Our units are based in Scotland, North West England, North East England and London but we also travel to Northern Ireland, Wales and other parts of the UK.
We provide a welcoming environment where anyone can come and chat about health and cancer. We concentrate our work in more deprived areas and we also try to engage specific groups like men, ethnic minorities and older people.
High streets, markets and workplaces are great locations for our activity. We also visit large events like cultural festivals, 50+ shows and sporting occasions.
Over 350,000 people have visited the Roadshow since it started. The number grows every week and we know that many visitors also talk to friends and family about their experience. It’s all about having conversations in a relaxed, approachable environment – making sure people have the right information, in the right way and at the right time.
The Roadshow also aims to tackle barriers that could stop people from taking action. For instance, some might not have the confidence to see their GP if they’re concerned about something; others don’t know where to find help to make a lifestyle change.
We try to give everyone who visits the Roadshow the information and support they need to make positive and sustained changes for their health, however big or small. Where appropriate, our nurses tell people about local services, such as stop smoking services – and local NHS and public health staff often join us onboard to help.
It’s a great boost when someone comes back to the Roadshow to tell us that we made a difference. This gives us even more drive and determination to keep doing what we do.
But other than this anecdotal evidence, how do we track the impact of our Roadshow?
What difference are we making?
We recently published an analysis of the Roadshow. We looked at people’s intentions to make healthy lifestyle changes and to use local health services after their visit, and looked at trends among different groups. The study was based on questionnaires completed by more than 6,000 visitors to the Roadshow.
Our results showed that, on average, people intended to make between two and three lifestyle changes following their visit, including maintaining a healthy weight, doing more exercise and eating more healthily.
Many visitors also planned to use local health services, such as stop smoking services or visit their GP.
And it looks like we’re reaching the right people – those from disadvantaged groups. For example, around 17 per cent of the people in the study were unemployed, compared to the national average of around eight per cent.
Encouragingly, visitors from disadvantaged groups – including those from more deprived groups, some ethnic minority groups and smokers – were more likely to say they intended to make lifestyle changes and/or use local health services.
These latest results support previous evaluation showing that we’re making a difference in the towns and cities where we go by:
- Increasing awareness – most of our visitors say that the Roadshow has given them information that they wouldn’t have otherwise obtained.
- Encouraging lifestyle changes and accessing local services
- Spreading the word – visitors share the information they receive on the Roadshow with others
We’re continuing to evaluate our work. The next step is to see if the good intentions that people have when they leave the Roadshow translate into action when they get home. With this in mind, we’re now interviewing visitors just after their visit and again three and seven months later.
We will report these results when we have them – so watch this space.
Reaching thousands every month
To beat cancer we need to tackle the disease on many fronts. Prevention is better than cure – but if cancer does develop then spotting and treating it earlier can stack the odds in your favour.
Our Cancer Awareness Roadshow is just one example of Cancer Research UK’s work in the areas of prevention and early diagnosis.
The Roadshow is helping to improve the health of people – regardless of where they live, how well-off they are, their ethnicity, gender, language or indeed, any other factor.
We’re reaching thousands of people every month through this work in the heart of local communities – we’re literally on the road to beating cancer.
Smith S.G., Rendell H., George H. & Power E. (2014). Improving cancer control through a community-based cancer awareness initiative, Preventive Medicine, 60 121-123. DOI: 10.1016/j.ypmed.2013.11.002