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Fear of diagnosis puts GP patients off cancer screening

Nearly half of GP patients in Luton say they don’t take part in cancer screenings due to embarrassment or fear of diagnosis.

The survey of over 600 residents, conducted by NHS Luton CCG and Cancer Research UK, hoped to understand why screening uptake in the area was so low.

It found that ‘fear of cancer’ was one of the most commonly reported barriers to participation, with 49% of respondents giving this reason for breast cancer screening, 47% reporting this for bowel and 42% for cervical screenings.

Embarrassment was high on the barrier list for cervical and bowel cancer, at 49% and 47% respectively.

Nearly two thirds cited ‘not understanding how to do the test’ as the reason for not participating in bowel cancer screenings.

The report also found that screening awareness was much lower in residents from ethnic minority groups.

However it said that understanding why screening is important, knowing someone who has or had cancer, and reminder letters were the most influential factors for those who had participated in screenings.

Local GP and NHS Luton CCG clinical lead for cancer Dr Anitha Bolanthur said: ‘In Luton a large number of people are being diagnosed with bowel cancer at later stages of cancer which dramatically reduces rates of survival. However 97% of bowel cancer is treatable and curable if it is caught early enough, which is why it is imperative that the people of Luton get screened.’

Lead researcher on the report Jay Smith, who works with local GPs to improve early cancer diagnosis as a Cancer Research UK facilitator, added: ‘This research gives us a lot to build on. Participants suggested they needed more reminders and more information.

‘These are things that the NHS, the local Cancer Research UK team and community leaders can look into and work together to provide.’

The report has called for further research to gather information from ethnic minority groups, men and persons with a disability, who were underrepresented in this survey.

NHS Luton CCG has responded to the findings by launching an awareness campaign called ‘High Five – Screening Saves Lives’.

Earlier this month annual cancer outcome figures revealed that more patients in England are being diagnosed early, and fewer are presenting for the first time as an emergency, with GPs being labelled the ‘main driver’ behind the improvements.