A study looking at people's understanding of cancer symptoms in smokers and non smokers (SASS)

Cancer type:

All cancer types

Status:

Results

Phase:

Other
This study tried to learn more about what people know and understand about common cancer symptoms. The study team were mainly interested in symptoms of:
  • head and neck cancer   
  • lung cancer         
Cancer Research UK supported this study as part of the National Awareness and Early Detection Initiative (NAEDI).
 
The study was open for people to join between 2013 and 2015 
and the results were published in 2017.

More about this trial

Simple infections can cause some symptoms that aren’t serious. Other symptoms may be caused by more serious conditions, such as cancer. Some of the main symptoms of suspected lung cancer are:
  • cough 
  • feeling short of breath 
  • tiredness 
  • shoulder pain
The aim of this study was to compare people who smoked and people who didn’t smoke. Researchers wanted to see if there was a difference in how they viewed symptoms and when they saw their doctor.  
 
The study team wanted to find out what people thought and did when they noticed a change or a new symptom in their body. To do this, they asked them to fill in a questionnaire.  
 
The researchers hoped that this information might help people to know more about cancer symptoms. And encourage people to see a doctor if they had smoked and had symptoms. 

Summary of results

The study found that people who smoked were more likely to feel short of breath, tired and have a cough. But they were less likely to see a doctor about these symptoms than people who had never smoked. 
 
About this study
The study took place in Yorkshire. GP’s sent questionnaires to 3,954 people who were over the age of 50. The questionnaires asked about people’s health and what they knew about symptoms. For example, it asked:
  • if they knew about possible symptoms of head and neck and lung cancers
  • if they had any symptoms 
  • what they did about the symptoms
  • what made them see a doctor
1,071 people returned their questionnaires.  Of those:
  • 269 smoked 
  • 202 were ex smokers
  • 600 had never smoked
Results
The main findings for smokers were:
  • they reported more coughs, breathlessness and tiredness 
  • they were more likely to have all 3 symptoms than people who had never smoked
  • being a smoker was linked to seeing a doctor about a cough but not for the other 3 symptoms
  • they were less likely to see a doctor for a cough than people who had never smoked (this might be because they thought that having a smoker’s cough was normal)
  • they knew that shortness of breath was a possible cancer symptom, but they weren’t aware that cough, tiredness and shoulder pain were
  • they and people who had never smoked had the same level of awareness that breathlessness was a possible cancer symptom
The main findings for ex smokers were:
  • they were more likely to feel short of breath and tired than people who had never smoked
  • they were more aware than people who had never smoked that breathlessness was a possible cancer symptom 
Researchers say these findings show how important it is to make both smokers and ex smokers aware of possible cancer symptoms. This is because ex smokers also reported feeling tired and breathless. 
 
Conclusion
The study team found that it is important to make people who smoke aware of possible cancer symptoms. Especially smokers who have a cough. 
 
Ex smokers should also look out for possible serious symptoms. They say we need to find new ways to help people recognise symptoms and see a doctor if they have symptoms that cancer can cause.
 
Where these results come from
 
We have based this summary on information from the research team. The information they sent us has been reviewed by independent specialists (peer reviewed Open a glossary item) and published in a medical journal. The figures we quote above were provided by the trial team who did the research. We have not analysed the data ourselves.

Recruitment start:

Recruitment end:

How to join a clinical trial

Please note: In order to join a trial you will need to discuss it with your doctor, unless otherwise specified.

Please note - unless we state otherwise in the summary, you need to talk to your doctor about joining a trial.

Chief Investigator

Professor Una Macleod

Supported by

National Awareness and Early Diagnosis Initiative (NAEDI)
University of Hull
University of York
Hull York Medical School

Freephone 0808 800 4040

Last review date

CRUK internal database number:

Oracle 10586

Please note - unless we state otherwise in the summary, you need to talk to your doctor about joining a trial.

Wendy took part in a new trial studying the possible side effect of hearing loss

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"I was delighted to take part in a clinical trial as it has the potential to really help others in the future.”

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