18% 'Embarrassed' To Visit Doctor After Noticing Cancer Symptom

According to a study involving academics at Queen's University Belfast over a third of people surveyed in Northern Ireland (34 per cent), do not present to their doctor immediately on noticing a cancer symptom because they are worried about wasting the doctor’s time.

The study, published in the British Journal of Cancer this week, was carried out by the International Cancer Benchmarking Partnership (ICBP), which examined differences in cancer awareness and beliefs between Northern Ireland, England, Wales, Australia, Canada, Denmark, Norway and Sweden.

Along with their international colleagues, researchers from Queen's Northern Ireland Cancer Registry in the University's Centre for Public Health wanted to find out whether survival rates for a country might be influenced by the population’s cancer awareness and beliefs.

The study reveals that almost a fifth of people in Northern Ireland (18 per cent) reported embarrassment as a barrier to going to see the doctor upon noticing a cancer symptom. This was significantly higher than in all other jurisdictions surveyed, with as few as six per cent reporting embarrassment as a factor in Denmark.

A higher proportion of people in Northern Ireland (30 per cent) also stated they were worried about what the doctor might find, compared to 20 per cent in Norway. Only 11 per cent of those surveyed in Northern Ireland were aware that cancer risk is generally much higher among older people in comparison with Australia, 16 per cent; Denmark, 25 per cent; Norway, 29 per cent and Sweden, 38 per cent.

Speaking about the importance of the study's findings, Dr Anna Gavin, Director of Queen's Northern Ireland Cancer Registry, said: "The good news for Northern Ireland is that overall, the study reported a high level of general knowledge regarding many symptoms and signs of cancer among people living here, with Northern Ireland participants recognising 8.53 out of a possible 11 symptoms for cancer, with only Canada doing better than us.

"What is of concern, however, is that while 90 per cent of people in Northern Ireland agreed that 'cancer can often be cured', only 70 per cent disagreed with the statement ‘a diagnosis of cancer is a death sentence.’ This is important because there is evidence to suggest negative attitudes can be linked to delayed presentation.

"Further work is required to understand and address barriers to people presenting with symptoms which could be caused by cancer. We need to raise awareness of cancer as a curable disease and of its higher levels in older people."


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