How our 'stiff upper lip' hits cancer survival rates: Britons are dying needlessly because they refuse to seek help for early symptomsStudy suggests Britons are embarrassed or reluctant to waste doctors' timeSurvey questioned 19,079 people aged 50 and older in six countriesExperts say British stoicism could explain differences in cancer survival

By
Jenny Hope

PUBLISHED:

01:44 GMT, 30 January 2013

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UPDATED:

01:44 GMT, 30 January 2013

Early intervention: A study found people in Britain do not seek help for early symptoms of cancer because they are embarrassed or reluctant to waste their doctors' time

Early intervention: A study found people in Britain do not seek help for early symptoms of cancer because they are embarrassed or reluctant to waste their doctors' time

Having a ‘stiff upper lip’ could mean some Britons are dying needlessly from cancer, warn researchers.

A study found that many people in Britain do not seek help for the early symptoms of cancer because they are embarrassed or reluctant to waste their doctors’ time.

Experts say this British stoicism may help explain differences in cancer survival between the UK and other high-income countries.

Britons also have less awareness of cancer risk increasing with age, meaning sufferers are less likely to be treated at an early stage when there is more chance of a cure.

The UK is joint bottom with Denmark of the international table for rates of survival, despite all six of the countries surveyed having similarly good access to healthcare. There were 157,000 deaths from cancer in the UK in 2010, with more than three quarters occurring in those aged 65 and over.

Scientists from the International Cancer Benchmarking Partnership previously found that for lung, breast, bowel and ovarian cancers diagnosed between 1995 and 2007, Australia, Canada, Sweden and Norway had the best survival rates. Denmark and the UK had the lowest, despite all the countries having similarly good cancer registration systems and access to healthcare.

One year survival for people with lung cancer was 30 per cent in the UK, compared with 44 per cent in Sweden.

The latest study, conducted by Cancer Research UK and Ipsos Mori, surveyed 19,079 people aged 50 and older in six countries to see if cultural factors could explain the differences. It found little difference in people’s views about the chances of surviving the disease or awareness of symptoms.

But when the study, published in the British Journal of Cancer, looked at barriers to seeing the doctor with early symptoms, our stiff upper lip came to the fore.

Worrying about wasting a doctor’s time was a concern for 34 per cent of those in the UK, compared with only 9 per cent of Swedes.

And embarrassment about seeing the doctor with a potentially serious symptom was most common in Britain (15 per cent) and least common in Denmark (6 per cent).

Awareness of the link between cancer and age was lowest in Canada (13 per cent) and the UK (14 per cent) but highest in Sweden (38 per cent).

Reluctant: Experts say British stoicism may help explain differences in cancer survival between the UK and other high-income countries

Reluctant: Experts say British stoicism may help explain differences in cancer survival between the UK and other high-income countries

Dr Lindsay Forbes, a study leader from King’s College London, said the UK was making its mark for the wrong reasons.

She added: ‘A high proportion of people said that not wanting to waste the doctor’s time and embarrassment might stop them going to the doctor with a symptom that might be serious.

‘The traditional British stiff upper lip could be preventing people from seeing their doctor.

‘We need to support people to make the right decisions about their health.’