Cancer diagnosis is 'biggest health fear' – but people still delay seeing GP

Over 70% of the public are afraid of being diagnosed with cancer, with cancer coming out as the top health condition people are most afraid of.

Nearly six in 10 people (56%) say a cancer diagnosis is their biggest health fear, above other illnesses including heart disease and Covid, according to new research.

Almost two thirds (63%) said dying was their biggest fear around cancer, with being a burden on family and friends (37%) and having chemotherapy or other treatments (36%) also big concerns. 

While the majority of people knew catching cancer earlier makes it more treatable, almost half (42%) said they would ignore symptoms, wait to see if anything changed, look for answers online, or speak to family and friends before seeing their GP. 

Phil Kissi, an Olympic coach, was diagnosed with prostate cancer at 49 in 2006 after watching a TV programme where he learnt Black men were at higher risk of the disease.

He didn’t have any symptoms, but went for a test and was eventually diagnosed with early stage, aggressive prostate cancer. He had surgery, which was a success, and now works to raise awareness among the Black community.

‘My diagnosis changed my perspective on life, and I re-evaluated what was important to me,’ says Phil. ‘After my surgery, I decided to go into athletic training and help young people who might not have had the chance to fulfil their potential otherwise.

‘If you’re worried about cancer, contact your GP practice. It’s probably nothing serious but even if it is, getting your diagnosis earlier can give you more treatment options and ultimately, a better chance of success.’

According to the new NHS research, 42% would delay going to the doctor if they were experiencing a serious bodily change or a feeling that something was wrong. Almost half would either look for answers online, speak to family and friends, completely ignore it or wait to see if anything changed, before speaking to their GP.

Over 20% of people said they wouldn’t go to the GP if they noticed a serious bodily change because they would hope it would go away on its own. Almost a third (31%) said they either wouldn’t want to find out bad news or waste the NHS’s time.

To tackle this fear of cancer and to encourage more people to speak up about symptoms earlier, the NHS is launching a new campaign encouraging people to be aware of potential signs of cancer, and to talk to their doctor early to help increase earlier diagnosis.

Running across TV, radio, and social media from tomorrow, the campaign is the first to focus on tackling the fear of cancer, rather than specific symptoms.

NHS bosses and cancer charities are urging people not to delay ‘lifesaving’ checks, highlighting that nine in ten of those checked turn out not to have cancer but that it is better to know so that people can get treated early when chances of survival are highest.

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