Surgical Tribune Europe

Medical check-ups often put off despite cancer symptoms

By Surgical Tribune
February 10, 2015

LONDON/KINGSTON UPON HULL, UK: A significant number of people decide against seeing their general practitioner despite red-flag cancer warning symptoms. According a study conducted by Cancer Research UK, they dismiss symptoms as trivial or worry about wasting the doctor’s time.

Researchers in London and Hull looked at how people who experience possible cancer symptoms decide whether to seek medical help. They sent out a health survey that was completed by more than 1,700 people aged 50 and over at three London GP practices.

The survey specifically did not mention cancer, but incorporated a list of 17 symptoms, including ten cancer alarm warning signs, such as persistent cough or hoarseness, unexplained lump, persistent change in bowel or bladder habits, and a sore that does not heal.

More than 900 people reported having at least one alarm symptom during the past three months. Researchers carried out in-depth interviews with almost 50 of them, almost half (45 per cent) of whom had not seen their GP about their symptoms.

Dr Katriina Whitaker, a senior research fellow at University College London during the study, said: “Many of the people we interviewed had red flag symptoms but felt that these were trivial and didn’t need medical attention, particularly if they were painless or intermittent.”

According to Whitaker, 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. “Some people made the decision to get symptoms checked out after seeing a cancer awareness campaign or being encouraged to do so by family or friends—this seemed to almost legitimise their symptoms as important,” the researcher said.

Reasons people gave for deciding to seek help included persistent symptoms, instinct that something was not right, and awareness or fear that they might have cancer. Some people waited for another reason to visit their GP and mentioned the cancer alarm symptom then. Others said they would rather go straight to an accident and emergency department than wait to see a specialist after being referred by their GP.

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