Knowledge Is Power for Cancer Patients, British Study Says

A study suggests that regions of England where patients show less awareness of cancer symptoms tend to have lower cancer survival rates, particularly in lower-income areas. The research, published in the British Journal of Cancer also examined whether barriers to care can affect the likelihood of surviving different cancers.

A study suggests that regions of England where patients show less awareness of cancer symptoms tend to have lower cancer survival rates, particularly in lower-income areas. The research published in the British Journal of Cancer also examined whether barriers to care can affect the likelihood of surviving different cancers.

When investigating whether the regional variation in cancer survival could be associated with variations in symptom awareness levels, researchers found that general awareness of cancer symptoms varied greatly across England’s regions. They also found that higher levels of cancer knowledge, determined by recognition of 9 symptoms, were correlated with higher survival rates at the regional level. On average, each additional cancer symptom recognized was associated with a 1.6% increase in 1-year overall survival for patients in that region, according to Science Daily.

The results showed that socioeconomically deprived parts of East London had the lowest symptom awareness rates, while more affluent locales like Peterborough, Bedfordshire, and Cambridgeshire had the highest. These findings supported previous research that found lower survival rates in the northern part of the country as opposed to the wealthier south of England.

Lead author Maja Niksic, PhD, said the authors concluded that “health campaigns should focus on helping people to recognize cancer symptoms early and seek medical advice…especially in socio-economically deprived areas, where cancer survival is generally lower.”

The study noted that the National Health Service (NHS) has already spent more than £450 million (almost $600 million) since 2011 on raising cancer awareness, including the “Be Clear on Cancer” campaign that focused specifically on increasing recognition of early symptoms. However, it did not target individuals of lower socioeconomic status, who are a particularly vulnerable population according to the study.

In addition to symptom awareness, the study also examined whether barriers to care were associated with lower survival rates. Interestingly, this correlation was only found for breast cancer; common barriers like embarrassment had a strong negative association with breast cancer survival rates. The study authors hypothesized that this was because breast cancer affects mainly women, citing previous studies that suggest women are more likely than men to report barriers to seeking medical help.

Jessica Kirby, senior health information manager at Cancer Research UK, cautioned that the study could not definitively prove causation, as “many things influence cancer survival and there could be other explanations for the variation in survival across the UK.” However, the findings could indicate areas where cancer prevention efforts could be strengthened. “The NHS,” she said, “should ensure that everyone can have the right information and access to services to give them the best chance of being diagnosed and treated promptly, wherever they live.”