Cancer survival rates tend to be lower in regions where people are less aware of cancer symptoms, a new UK study has found.
The research, published in the British Journal of Cancer, also uncovered wide variation in awareness of cancer symptoms across England.
“Health campaigns should focus on helping people to recognise cancer symptoms early”
The study set out to explore possible links between cancer survival rates and both awareness of symptoms, plus any issues getting in the way of people seeing a GP.
It found increased awareness of cancer symptoms was linked to better survival rates.
However, there did not appear to be a strong link between survival rates and practical and emotional barriers to seeking help from primary care, such as feeling scared or having trouble getting an appointment.
This was only the case when it came to breast cancer where problems like embarrassment and difficulties getting transport to the doctor’s surgery were linked to worse survival rates.
According to the study, East London had the lowest awareness of cancer symptoms and the highest number of barriers to seeking medical help.
“It’s important the public are informed about getting to know their body”
The highest levels of cancer awareness were found in areas such as Peterborough, Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire.
The findings highlighted the value of campaigns that help people recognise the early signs of cancer and encourage them to see a GP, said the research team.
“A range of things can influence cancer survival,” said lead author Dr Maja Niksic, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
“Stage of disease at diagnosis is one of them, and if we can ensure more people know what to look out for and see their GP if they notice any unusual or persistent changes, we may be able to reduce the numbers of patients who are diagnosed with advanced disease, where curative treatment is not often an option,” she said.
Cancer survival ‘linked to symptom awareness’
“Based on our research, we think that health campaigns should focus on helping people to recognise cancer symptoms early and seek medical advice about these – especially in socio-economically deprived areas, where cancer survival is generally lower,” added Dr Niksic.
The researchers analysed data from the Cancer Research UK Cancer Awareness Measure and National Cancer Registry.
Jessica Kirby, senior health information manager at Cancer Research UK, said there could be other factors behind variation in cancer survival rates, such as smoking rates and the way health services were set up in different areas.
“It’s important the public are informed about getting to know their body and what’s normal for them, and spotting potential cancer signs and symptoms,” she said. “And we need to ensure people feel they can go and see their GP if they notice any unusual changes.
“The NHS should ensure that everyone can have the right information and access to services to give them the best chance of being diagnosed and treated promptly, wherever they live,” she added.