Stoic British attitudes to aches, pains and ‘soldiering on’ may be contributing to poor cancer outcomes

In a new study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, the results of a survey of 1,724 people revealed that less than one in 100 people suffering persistent symptoms regarded as ‘red flag indicators’ had even considered the possibility that they might have cancer.

The participants were given a list of 17 symptoms and asked to indicate whether they has persistently suffered from any of them, and then whether they had consulted a doctor or not.

The symptoms included cancer warning signals such as


Unexplained bleeding

Bleeding moles or skin growths

Unexplained lumps

Persistent and unexplained coughing or hoarseness

Sudden and persistent changes in bowel routine

Persistent unexplained pain

Moles changing in size or shape

Unexplained weight loss

Persistent difficulty swallowing

Persistent tiredness and lethargy


Over 900 of those surveyed, more than 53%, indicated that they had experienced one or more of the symptoms listed, of which over 40% had not sought any medical advice and only 20 people in total had recognised them as possible signs of cancer.

Cancer Research UK, along with every cancer charity and every doctor involved in its study or treatment continuously stress the importance of early diagnosis to the possible outcome of any cancer; the earlier the better in every case.

Yet even though we may be aware of this, and of the nature of the symptoms which are also well publicised by the clinical and health authorities, as a nation we seem to be as likely to dismiss them as ‘normal aches and pains’ as we are to deal with them.

This is particularly true of the over 50s who frequently cite a desire not to waste doctor’s time or be seen as a hypochondriac, an attitude not helped by the difficulties faced in getting a GP appointment in the first place.

But health professionals working in the treatment of cancer are convinced that a cultural reticence to bring symptoms forward for examination at the earliest opportunity has had a hugely negative impact on the UK’s poor performance in this area when compared with the rest of Europe where our survival rates are consistently below average.

Senior Research Fellow Dr Katriina Whitaker, who led the study, is clear on the need for more urgency from the public “we need to send the message that if you have symptoms that don’t go away…don’t ignore them, go to your doctor and seek help” she said.

Everyone agrees that most people won’t have cancer, and they certainly don’t wish to cause alarm, but for those who might be diagnosed early the chances of survival will be infinitely improved and other patients may find a number of other ailments or diseases may also be identified in the process.

Early diagnosis is always a good thing, in any treatment.

Just how our apparently hard-pressed and overworked GP’s might respond to an influx of usually dormant patients is another issue altogether.

But if it is your life, or the life of a loved one, on the line, is practice management really something that should concern you?


Source:  Mail Online et al.
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