Unexplained coughs are too often dismissed as harmless / Corbos

Cancer Research study shows a majority of people have ignored a 'red flag'

People are putting their lives at risk by dismissing the warning signs of cancer, experts have warned.

A new study by Cancer Research UK found that more than half of British people have experienced at least one "red flag cancer alarm" symptom – such as a persistent cough or an unexplained lump – but only two per cent thought cancer was a possible cause.

The UK’s cancer survival rates lag behind the European average and delays in diagnosing the disease are believed to be a major factor.

CRUK interviewed nearly 2,000 people about their health in recent months, and found that 53 per cent had experienced a symptom that is used by experts as a key warning sign of at least one type of cancer.

More than a third or respondents did not seek medical advice about their symptoms.

Dr Katriina Whitaker, CRUK’s senior research fellow at University College London, who led the study, said that it was time for British people to stop worrying about “making a fuss” or wasting a doctor’s time.

“There is a bit of myth-busting that needs to happen here,” she said. “People bring up this idea that we shouldn’t encourage people to become hypochondriacs, but we have a problem with people frightened to look like they’re time wasters or that they’re wasting valuable NHS resources.

“We need to send the message that if you have symptoms that don’t go away, particularly symptoms that have been alerted as warning signs, don’t ignore them, go to your doctor and seek help.”

Researchers sent questionnaires listing 17 symptoms, including 10 potential cancer warning signs such as unexplained cough, bleeding and unexplained lumps and moles, to people aged 50 and over, living in London.

The findings are published in the journal PLOS ONE

Persistent cough – a possible warning sign for lung cancer – was the most commonly experienced symptom. Changes to bowel and bladder rhythms – which can be a symptom of bowel or bladder cancer – were also commonly experienced and dismissed.

According to figures released last week, UK lung cancer survival rates are worse in the UK than in most of Europe, at around 10 per cent after five years, and experts have warned that although awareness is not an issue in the UK, the so-called stiff upper lip might be.

Sara Hiom, Cancer Research UK’s director of early diagnosis said: “Making that doctor’s appointment is important. It’s not a waste of time for the GP or the patient. Diagnosing cancer early saves lives because it gives patients a better chance that treatments will be successful.”

Symptoms dismissed as harmless that could point to cancer

Unexplained cough or hoarseness (lung cancer)

Change in bowel habits over three weeks (bowel cancer)

Persistent unexplained pain (several cancers, depending on where it hurts)

Change in the appearance of a mole (skin cancer)

Unexplained bleeding (several cancers including bladder cancer if in urine)

Unexplained weight loss (several cancers)

Persistent difficulty swallowing (throat cancer)