Millions of British people are delaying getting their cancer symptoms checked due to embarrassment, putting them at increased risk of death.
New research suggests a fifth of UK adults – around 6.6 million people – have put off seeking medical advice.
Experts warn that delays in diagnosis can have a major impact on the success of treatment, and urged people to overcome their shame to ensure the best results.
Bowel cancer, one of the conditions linked to symptoms seen as “embarrassing”, has one of the lowest survival rates in the country.
Other potential cancer symptoms viewed as shameful included irregular vaginal bleeding, pains in the groin and blood while urinating.
A survey by the healthcare provider Bupa revealed the full extent of British people’s shame around certain cancer symptoms.
The results showed the “embarrassment factor” was responsible for delays of around two months on average between noticing symptoms and contacting a health professional.
Some symptoms, such as changes in bladder or bowel habits, led to even longer delays of up to 10 weeks.
Over a half of those who were nervous about visiting the doctor said they did not know how to start a discussion with their doctor, a third said they would rather talk over the phone and a similar number said they would rather get their advice online.
These results are particularly concerning given the UK’s poor record when it comes to timely cancer diagnosis.
“Early diagnosis and treatment of a cancer can reduce the need for more complex and invasive treatments, and we believe it is key to improving survival rates,” Julia Ross, head of cancer care at Bupa UK told The Independent.
Georgina Hill from Cancer Research UK said while there are many reasons why certain cancers have higher mortality rates, early diagnosis was definitely a key factor.
“Early diagnosis of cancer is really important because treatment is more likely to work at an early stage – this is because the cancer is more likely to be smaller and to not have spread,” said Ms Hill.
She said the research by Bupa was the latest to show how embarrassment was holding up the early detection of cancers in the UK.
Ms Ross said: “When you notice something’s not right with your body it can be daunting, whatever the symptoms.
“It’s important to remember that the role of medical professionals is to help you understand your body, providing you with peace of mind or signposting you to the most appropriate treatment and support for your condition.”
Health professionals recommend not only coming forward early with any potential symptoms, but also participating in screening programmes.
“Bowel cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death after lung cancer, and there is a screening programme for people who don’t have symptoms,” said Ms Hill.
Previous research has shown that when bowel cancer is detected and treated at stage one, 95 per cent of people will survive five years, a figure that falls to just 7 per cent for stage four.
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