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British patients 'most likely' to be embarrassed about cancer

UK patients are less likely to present to their GP with cancer than those in other countries because they are more embarrassed about talking about their symptoms, claim researchers.

The study

Researchers conducted telephone surveys of people aged 50 years or older in Australia, Canada, Denmark, Sweden, Norway and the UK. They measured cancer awareness using the validated ‘awareness and beliefs about cancer’ measure and examined whether the pattern of cancer awareness and beliefs followed the pattern expected from differences in cancer survival. Some 19,079 people completed the questionnaire.

The findings

15% of UK patients reported that embarrassment would put them off going to their GP with a symptom that might be serious, compared with 6% of Danes, 9% of Swedes and Norwegians, 10% of Canadians and 12% of Australians.

Only 13.6% of people in the UK were aware that the risk of cancer increases with age, and that 70-year-olds are most likely to be diagnosed with cancer.

Australian, Swedish, Norwegian and Danish individuals were significantly more likely to know that the risk of cancer increases with age, compared to the British. Australians were 18% more likely, Danish and Norwegians were over two times more likely, and Swedish people were over four times more likely. Canada was the only country with lower awareness, with 13.3% of people.

What does it mean for GPs?

The authors concluded that, in the UK, ‘interventions to promote early presentation might usefully focus on addressing awareness of the age-related risk and increasing the public’s confidence to approach the GP with possible cancer-related symptoms’.

British Journal of Cancer 2013, available online 31 January

Readers' comments (1)

  • Perhaps GPs should screen people for embarrasment tendancies

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