UK cancer survival rates lag behind Europe

Brits are 'too polite' to talk about symptoms

Cancer survival rates in the UK lag behind Europe because patients are too reticent to talk about their symptoms a new survey suggests.

Almost 40 per cent of people say they would put off going to their GP with symptoms because they did not want to bother the doctor. Embarrassment, anxiety and being too busy were other reasons given for delaying a visit.

Comparisons with other countries show that up to 11,000 cancer deaths could be prevented every year if Britain improved its survival rates to match the best-performing nations in Europe.

Patients who seek early diagnosis of their symptoms, press for the best treatments and don’t take no for an answer have the best chance of survival. Ignoring symptoms such as a lump in the breast, blood in the faeces or a persistent cough means the chances of recovery are reduced.

Professor Jane Wardle, of the health behaviour research unit at University College London, said: ‘If we were to carry out this survey in other countries, I suspect that the results might be different, because it’s typically British to think ‘I mustn’t bother the doctor’. But when this etiquette stops us talking to the GP about potentially serious symptoms, it can be dangerous.’

Last year, Professor Mike Richards, the Government’s cancer tsar, suggested that British stoicism could lie behind the country’s poor showing on cancer survival compared with other countries. ‘If we can tackle delays in diagnosing cancer, we will be able to save thousands more lives,’ he said.

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