A study to understand how people manage symptoms before they are diagnosed with cancer

Cancer type:

Bowel (colorectal) cancer
Lung cancer





This study looked at actions people take to manage symptoms before they are diagnosed with bowel or lung cancer.

More about this trial

The earlier cancer is found, the more easily it can be treated. So doctors are looking for ways to reduce delays in the diagnosis Open a glossary item

We know that sometimes people delay going to see their doctor when they have symptoms. But we don’t know what actions they take to manage these symptoms before they get medical help. 

In this study, researchers wanted to find out what these actions are. And if it is possible for a community pharmacist to encourage people to get help earlier.

They asked people who have been diagnosed with bowel or lung cancer in the past year, to complete a questionnaire. It asked about what they did before they went to see their doctor. 

The main aim of this study was to look at how people manage their symptoms before being diagnosed with bowel or lung cancer.

Summary of results

The research team concluded that people manage their symptoms by taking medications without medical supervision. But only a small amount of people buy their medications from a pharmacy.

The research team sent 608 questionnaires and a prepaid envelope, to people diagnosed with bowel or lung cancer in the last year. 

220 completed questionnaires (38%) were returned. The questionnaires were completed by:

  • 145 people with bowel cancer 
  • 75 people with lung cancer  

The study team looked at the questionnaires from people who had taken actions to manage their symptoms (96 questionnaires). They found that 61 out of 96 people (about 64%) with bowel and lung cancer had managed their symptoms by taking medications. And they did so without medical help or supervision.

12 out of 96 people (about 13%) had bought their medications from a pharmacy. Of these people: 

  • 3 received advice from the pharmacist and were referred to their GP’s
  • 1 just received advice from the pharmacist 
  • 6 were encouraged to take other actions if their symptoms didn’t resolve
  • 2 didn’t answer this question  

The study team found the amount of people who bought their medicines from a pharmacy was low. They think that pharmacists need to ask more about people’s symptoms. Asking about the early symptoms of cancer could reduce the delay on cancer diagnosis. 

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) but may not have been published in a medical journal. The figures we quote above were provided by the research team. 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

Mrs Frances Notman

Supported by

NIHR Clinical Research Network: Cancer
Pharmacy Research UK
University of Aberdeen

If you have questions about the trial please contact our cancer information nurses

Freephone 0808 800 4040

Last review date

CRUK internal database number:


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

Last reviewed:

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