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Cancer awareness lower amongst ethnic minorities

Posted on 01/11/2014

Ethnic minorities in England are less aware of cancer symptoms and more likely to report reasons for not going to see the doctor, even when they have a symptom that they think might be serious, according to research from the Division of Cancer Studies at King’s College London.

Researchers looked at nearly 50,000 responses to the Cancer Research UK Cancer Awareness Measure* from people across England. They found that ethnic minority groups were consistently less aware of cancer symptoms.

People with a Black ethnic background were half as likely as White people to recognise that unexplained bleeding could be a symptom of cancer; while South Asians were a quarter as likely as white people to recognise that an unexplained lump or swelling could be a cancer symptom.

Most ethnic minority groups also tended to describe more barriers putting them off going to the doctor to discuss an unexplained symptom. South Asians were most likely to report embarrassment and a lack of confidence to talk about their symptoms. But White British people were most likely to report that worry about wasting the doctor’s time would put them off going to their GP. 

Maja Niksic, PhD student at King’s College London, and lead author of the research, says: “This study highlights the need to develop more targeted health messages in order to encourage people with symptoms suspicious of cancer to visit their GPs sooner. It’s essential that we tailor these messages to address the specific population needs and gaps in cancer awareness that exist between different ethnic groups. 

Dr Lindsay Forbes, Clinical Senior Lecturer in Cancer and Public Health at King’s College London, says: “Early diagnosis is a vital part of improving survival from cancer, which is why it’s essential to encourage people to seek medical help if they notice any unexplained changes in their body and build their confidence to talk about them.”

The research was presented at the National Cancer Research Institute (NCRI) Cancer Conference in Liverpool. The full abstract can be read here

For further information, please contact Jenny Gimpel, Health Schools PR Manager, King’s College London, tel: (+44) 207 848 4334 or email:

*The Cancer Awareness Measure (CAM) is the first validated tool to assess awareness of cancer including questions about signs and symptoms, risk factors, cancer screening programmes, barriers to seeing the doctor, anticipated time to seek help and awareness of common cancers. The CAM can benchmark public awareness at a national, regional and local level, make international comparisons and track awareness over time. It identifies gaps in knowledge, of particular symptoms, risk factors, or among specific population groups, helping to inform the development of more targeted interventions. It is also used to evaluate the impact of awareness-raising initiatives that aim to improve awareness, such as the Department of Health’s Be Clear on Cancer campaigns.

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