One in five cancer patients typically wait more than three months to check in with a doctor about potentially serious symptoms, according to a new study by King’s College London.
The most common reason (28 percent of patients) was failure to recognize the symptoms as serious. Other factors, found in fewer than six percent of patients, included embarrassment or worrying about wasting the doctor’s time.
Those most likely to procrastinate seeing a doctor were patients with prostate (44 percent) and rectal cancer (37 percent); breast cancer patients (eight percent) were least likely to procrastinate.
Urinary difficulties, changes of bowel habit, and symptoms such as fatigue, weight loss and loss of appetite were common symptoms of patients who procrastinated seeing a doctor. Also, 35 percent of patients with rectal bleeding delayed seeing their doctor, compared to nine percent of patients with urinary bleeding.
The findings showed that delay was much more common among patients living in the most deprived areas.
“This research highlights that we must do more to make sure the public recognizes 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,” said Dr. Lindsay Forbes, co-director of the King’s College London Early Presentation Group.
“Although a worrying number of patients across society are waiting too long to go to their doctor, it is those in the most deprived areas that are most likely to delay.”
For the study, published in the British Journal of Cancer, researchers surveyed 2,371 patients in England with 15 different types of cancer regarding the symptoms that had led to their diagnosis. There was no difference found in the amount of time it took to schedule a doctor’s appointment between men and women or young and old patients.
“This research highlights how incredibly important it is that everyone is aware of the wide range of cancer symptoms, and has the confidence to tell their doctor. The earlier cancer is diagnosed, the higher the chance of survival and it’s essential that people report any symptoms promptly to their general practitioner. No one should be waiting three months before booking an appointment,” said Sara Hiom, Cancer Research UK’s director of early diagnosis.
Source: King’s College London