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Ignoring cancer symptoms: new study shows Britons “worry about wasting GP’s time”

A new study funded by Cancer Research UK has shown that people are not reporting cancer alarm symptoms because they are worried they may be wasting their GP’s time.

The study, published in the British Journal of General Practice, explored the reasons why some people are more likely to worry about wasting a GP’s time and delay reporting possible cancer symptoms. Some felt that long waiting times indicated GPs were so busy they “shouldn’t bother making an appointment unless symptoms seemed very serious”. There was a perception that the GP “wasn’t interested”.

 Other people felt that looking for help where their symptoms did not seem serious was a waste of a doctor’s time. People also reported feeling more pressured during a GP appointment compared to one with a nurse.

This UK study of 62 people who reported experiencing at least one cancer alarm symptom in the last three months also looked at people who use GP services freely. These people believed that GPs cared about their patients and felt that the taxes they had paid meant they were entitled to use the service within reason.

This study was carried out at the University of Surrey and University College London and is the first study investigating what makes people, who are experiencing symptoms that could be cancer, concerned about wasting their GP’s time.

Dr Katriina Whitaker, co-author at the University of Surrey, said: “People worrying about wasting their doctor’s time is one of the challenges we need to tackle when thinking about trying to diagnose cancer earlier. We need to get to the root of the problem and find out why people are feeling worried. Not a lot of work has been done on this so far. Our study draws attention to some reasons patients put off going to their GP to check out possible cancer symptoms.”

Dr Julie Sharp, Cancer Research UK’s head of health & patient information, said: “We’ve all had times where we’ve wondered if we should go to see a GP but getting unusual or persistent changes checked out is really important. Worrying about wasting a GP’s time should not put people off. Doctors are there to help spot cancer symptoms early when treatment is more likely to be successful and delaying a visit could save up bigger problems for later. So if you’ve noticed anything that isn’t normal for you make an appointment to see your doctor.”

Gordon Wishart, Professor of Cancer Surgery and Chief Medical Officer of Check4Cancer comments: “Considering how critical early detection is to treatment of cancer – and, ultimately, survival – this is a worrying trend. The study seems to have identified a feeling that GPs are overloaded and so don’t have time for something that may prove to be trivial. Whilst Check4Cancer is in no way a replacement for your GP, it is a possible alternative for people who are specifically worried about cancer – not only about symptoms, which clearly require immediate action, but about their individual risk. Since early cancer detection is our single area of specialisation we are in a position to provide direct access to our screening & diagnostic tests without referral, which means a swifter diagnosis, and reassurance for the vast majority. Obviously this saves the GP time, but more importantly gets the patient treatment or peace of mind much more quickly.”

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