Patients delay seeing doctor despite worrying cancer symptoms

27th Jun 2014

A recent study has shown that many people delay seeing their doctors when they develop embarrassing or worrying symptoms that could indicate cancer, according to the British Journal of Cancer. More than 1 in 5 cancer patients wait for over 3 months, from first noticing symptoms, before visiting their GP. In many cases this delay can have life-threatening consequences.

The most common reason for delaying the visit to the doctor was embarrassment and worrying about wasting the doctor’s time. Unsuccessfully recognising their symptoms as serious was also a reason for putting off their visit to the doctor.

Rectal bleeding was one of the symptoms in which patients delayed seeing their doctor about, with 35% of people waiting too long, according to the report. In contrast, 90% of patients who experienced blood in their urine booked an appointment with their doctor within three months. Patients with prostate and rectal cancer were the most likely to delay their visit to the GP, while patients with breast cancer were least likely to delay.

However, the study didn’t find any difference between men and women, or young and old patients in the time taken to visit the doctor but it did find that people living in deprived areas are more likely to stall seeing their doctor.

The report highlights that it is important that patients recognise symptoms which could indicate cancer, or a serious illness, and make an appointment to see a doctor. The earlier cancer is diagnosed the higher the chance of survival and a good outcome, delaying seeing a doctor could mean the illness becomes life threatening. Awareness campaigns are needed to raise awareness of symptoms.

Co-director of the King’s College London Early Presentation Group, Dr Lindsay Forbes, underlined the importance of spreading the word about cancer symptoms, “This research highlights that we must do more to make sure the public recognises key symptoms of cancer like unexplained pain, unusual bleeding or weight loss, as well as a lump and make sure they get these checked out as soon as possible.”

Rachel Kayani

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