A third of people in Northern Ireland who notice cancer symptoms do not get them checked out because they are worried they are wasting their doctor’s time, a new study has shown.
According to a health survey across eight countries — which included academics from Queen’s University — Northern Ireland’s lack of awareness of the dangers and treatments of cancer are both “significantly higher” than other areas studied.
The number of those not wishing to visit their GP because of embarrassment was three times higher than Denmark.
The study, in the British Journal of Cancer, looked at whether survival rates across different nations could be influenced by the population’s awareness and understanding of the disease.
After surveying more than 2,000 men and women over 50 in the province, the study found also a much higher proportion of people in Northern Ireland were worried about what a doctor might find during a check-up comparued to other countries such as Norway.
Dr Anna Gavin of Queen’s University said there were a number of reasons why people here had reservations about visiting their doctor to get checked out.
“We realise doctors are busy and we also have a bit of fear that we are bothering them with something that isn’t significant,” she said.
“And we also have an embarrassment about going.”
But despite the obvious reservations, Northern Ireland almost came out on top regarding knowledge of the signs of cancer, with participants recognising almost nine out of 11 possible symptoms of the disease.
“The main concern is that many people in Northern Ireland think cancer is a death sentence,” Dr Gavin said. “On one hand, most people agreed that cancer can be cured, but many still believe it leads to death. Cancer is now treated very well, and for people who can’t be treated there is palliative care — people can live pain-free with fantastic support.”
Dr Gavin said people had to get past “negative barriers and a fatalistic attitude” in order to help identify and treat various forms of cancer.