Majority are unable to spot key cancer warning signs
Two new surveys have revealed an alarming lack of public awareness about the symptoms of two major cancers. Firstly, the majority are unable to identify key symptoms of lung cancer – the most common cause of cancer-related death worldwide, responsible for 1.3 million deaths annually. Additionally, a second survey has suggested many are unable to recognise the major signs and symptoms of mouth cancer.
In a Cancer Research UK survey, the results of which were published today, almost 1,500 people were asked to list possible warning signs of the disease. Worryingly, only 5% (77 people) mentioned a persistent cough, whilst only two people mentioned a painful cough and only three listed a change in an existing cough.
Furthermore, less than 10% of those asked mentioned symptoms such as a persistent chest infection, tiredness or unexplained weight loss, with under 15% identifying persistent chest pain as a possible symptom of lung cancer. Almost 80% failed to mention coughing up blood, while 63% did not list shortness of breath.
The study, the results of which were published in the journal Thorax, was led by Sara Hiom, Cancer Research UK’s director of information. Of the findings, she said: “It’s very worrying to see from our survey results that… many common [lung cancer symptoms] simply don’t come to mind for most people. A diagnosis of lung cancer is devastating, but if the disease is caught in its earliest stages, treatment can improve survival. We can help improve diagnosis by raising awareness of the signs people should look out for and when to get them checked by a doctor.”
Expatriates should be aware that lung cancer is the most common cancer globally, both in terms of incidence and mortality. The highest rates are in Europe and North America, although the incidence in developing countries is expected to rise in the next few years, particularly with increased smoking in China and India. In contrast to the mortality rate in men, which began declining two decades ago, women’s lung cancer mortality rates have been steadily rising.
When the study asked respondents to list risk factors for lung cancer, under 13% of respondents mentioned exposure to cigarette smoke (passive smoking). Interestingly, smokers, who are most at risk of lung cancer, showed no greater awareness of symptoms than non-smokers. In 2010, tobacco caused 86% of lung cancer cases, with statistics suggest that the habit will kill half of those who continue to do it long-term. That said, not all cases of lung cancer are due to smoking, with emissions from cars, factories and power plants also posing potential risks.
Additionally, a separate survey, conducted by Simplyhealth, has found that the majority of people are unaware of the key signs and symptoms of mouth cancer. The survey, of 11,785 adults, found that 70% knew none of the symptoms of the disease, which can include a persistent mouth sore or ulcer, red and white patches in the mouth, a lump or thickening in the mouth, tongue or throat or difficulty chewing or swallowing.
The disease is amenable to early detection and treatment, but an estimated 400,000 new instances are diagnosed worldwide each year. The main risk factors for mouth cancer include smoking, alcohol, poor diet and nutrition and human papillomavirus (HPV) infection.
Michael Thomas, a practicing dentist, said: ‘As with all cancers, the sooner it is identified the better. I’d encourage everyone to utilise their time in the dentist’s chair and speak up should they have any questions about the risks or symptoms of mouth cancer.’