Public ignorance and fear add thousands to annual cancer death toll

Cancer Research UK

More than three quarters of people asked to list possible warning signs and symptoms of cancer failed to mention pain, coughing or problems with bowels or bladder according to a Cancer Research UK report, Delay Kills,* funded by Tesco and published today (Tuesday).

And more than two thirds of the 2090 people surveyed in Great Britain for the report also failed to list bleeding. Only around one quarter mentioned weight loss or mole changes as being a potential sign of cancer.

But even when people recognised signs they thought might be serious the survey found that nearly 40 per cent said they might delay getting symptoms checked out because they were worried what the doctor might find. And more than 25 per cent might delay because they feared wasting the doctor’s time.

Overwhelming failure to recognise common cancer symptoms, resulting in late diagnosis of the disease, is leading to thousands of avoidable cancer deaths – say cancer doctors.

These statistics have spurred a major new partnership between Cancer Research UK and Tesco, which will help scientists find ways to close the gap between survival rates in the UK and the best in Europe so thousands more will survive cancer in future.

Tesco will raise £10million to fund 32 early diagnosis research projects across the UK and will launch a new in-store customer awareness campaign. As a result of the new partnership Cancer Research UK leaflets on early signs of cancer will be on display at the store’s checkouts and available to the millions of customers who pass through each week.

Latest figures suggest that if Great Britain matched the best cancer survival rate in Europe around 11,500 deaths could be avoided. Experts believe a poor record in early diagnosis lies at the heart of why we lag behind.

Professor Peter Johnson, Cancer Research UK’s chief clinician, said: "Our report highlights just how much more we have to do to raise awareness about the early signs of cancer. Thanks to Tesco’s support our scientists can now focus on even more research to find out how we can get cancer diagnosed earlier and help many more people to survive cancer in the future.

“If patients are diagnosed when the cancer is still in its early stages before it has had a chance to spread to other parts of the body it is more likely that treatment will be successful. That is why it is so important for people to be aware of things that might be early signs of cancer.

“Of course we are all frightened of hearing that we may have cancer. But people need to know that catching the disease early gives them much better odds of surviving it. The best precaution anyone can take is to be on the lookout for any changes in their bodies that seem unusual for them and to get them checked by a doctor.

“We know that in many cases these things won’t turn out to be cancer. But don’t take the gamble of missing out on early diagnosis.”
Richard Brasher, Tesco UK’s chief executive, said: “Missing the early warning signs can result in late diagnosis of cancer, which leads to thousands of avoidable cancer deaths. At Tesco we are passionate about fighting cancer. Working with Cancer Research UK as our Charity of the Year we will work to get this message over to millions of our customers and raise a record £10m to help save more lives."

Kay Bailey, 48 who works as a customer assistant for Tesco in Broadstairs, Kent, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in July 2010 after finding a lump in her neck, which she first thought might be glandular fever.

“I had been feeling a bit under the weather at the time as well, so I felt I needed to get myself checked out. After some tests I was stunned to be diagnosed with cancer. The thought had never entered my head. I could easily have put off going to see my GP but I knew the most sensible thing was to find out if anything was wrong, especially as I have four kids and a granddaughter – my family needs me.

“My advice to anyone now is: ‘listen to your body’ and if you are experiencing any unusual symptoms get them checked. We are all so busy these days, it can be hard to find the time, but it is so important.”

Kay is now doing well and back working at Tesco where she has been for 10 years.  “The company has been very flexible and supportive during my illness. And I’m so pleased it is working in partnership with Cancer Research UK and aims to raise £10m for research into early diagnosis.”
Keen runner Kay has raised more than £6,000 for Cancer Research UK herself over the years by taking part in several Race for Life events and five London marathons.

ENDS

For media enquiries contact the Cancer Research UK press office on 020 3469 8300 or the out of hours’ duty press officer on 07050 264 059.

Notes to Editor

*Delay Kills is a Cancer Research UK and Tesco report on the problems of diagnosing cancer early and why it is so vital to solve them. It is based on The Cancer Awareness Measure (CAM) - a survey designed to detect the levels of public awareness and knowledge of the signs and symptoms of cancer and to discover what barriers prevent people from visiting their doctor with potential cancer symptoms. Cancer Research UK developed the CAM with a group of researchers from University College London, King’s College London and the University of Oxford. It was carried out among a random sample of 2090 adults over the age of 18 in Great Britain by the Office for National Statistics in 2010.

The 32 projects Tesco will be supporting the funding of include Professor Peter Sasieni’s research programme at Queen Mary, University of London, investigating whether testing women aged 25-65 for the human papillomavirus (HPV) - as part of the cervical screening programme - could save even more lives than the smear test alone.

Another project that Tesco will help support fund is work on preventing bowel cancer led by Professor Wendy Atkin who is based at Imperial College, London. Bowel cancer is the third most common cancer in the UK with nearly 40,000 people diagnosed with the disease each year. Her work focuses on preventing the disease by catching polyps and other more difficult to detect bowel lesions while they are still harmless.

About Tesco Charity of the Year

Since 1988, Tesco has chosen a different charity every year to be the focus for staff fundraising and has raised £60 million for good causes over this period. The Tesco Charity Trust tops up all staff fundraising by 20% (up to maximum of £500,000 for Charity of the Year fundraising). Tesco is committed to helping the nation fight cancer and since 2000 has raised over £30 million to help a range of UK cancer charities to deliver services in prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care for people in communities across the UK. In 2010, Tesco raised a record breaking £7.5 million in one year to ensure every child being treated for cancer in the UK had access to a Clic Sargent children’s cancer nurse. In addition, Tesco has recently funded a pilot nutrition project with the University College London Hospital (UCLH) to improve access to free food for teenagers receiving treatment for cancer in hospital, helping them to avoid developing cachexia. Tesco are in the business of ensuring people have good, nutritious food and are therefore in a unique position to help people who suffer from weight loss and muscle wasting as a result of their cancer treatment.