People are failing to heed the early warning signs of cancer because they fear they may end up wasting their doctor’s time over trivial symptoms, a study has found.
Many of the so-called “red flag” warning signs such as a persistent cough or hoarseness, an unexplained lump, a long-term change in bowel or bladder habits, or a sore that does not heal, are still being ignored, a patient survey has shown.
Some people said they failed to see a doctor because they were worried the GP would view it as a trivial matter. Others said it was out of fear of a cancer diagnosis, or because they adopted a “stiff upper lip”, lacked confidence in the health system or simply put it down to ageing.
Others believed their symptoms would go away of their own accord, according to Cancer Research UK, which carried out the survey of more than 1,700 people over 50. It said the results were “alarming” given the importance of early diagnosis for long-term cancer survival.
“The stiff-upper-lip stoicism of some who decided not to go to their doctor was alarming because they put up with often debilitating symptoms,” said Dr Katriina Whitaker, who was a senior research fellow at University College London during the study.
The participants, all registered with three GP practices in London, were sent a health survey featuring symptoms typical of cancer – such as a persistent cough or a change in bowel habits – and asked to decide whether or not they would seek medical help.
The survey specifically did not mention cancer, but incorporated a list of 17 symptoms that were early warning signs of cancer. More than 900 people reported having at least one alarm symptom during the past three months. Researchers interviewed almost 50 of them, nearly half of whom had not seen their GP about their symptoms.
Dr Richard Roope, of Cancer Research UK, said: “The advice we give is: if in doubt, check it out – this would not be wasting your GP’s time.
“Often your symptoms won’t be caused by cancer, but if they are, the quicker the diagnosis, the better the outcome.”Reuse content