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Better health messages necessary to improve cancer awareness in non-whites

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Ethnic minorities are less likely to be aware of the symptoms of cancer, and visit a doctor if they experience symptoms, a study led by researchers at King's College has concluded.

The study, presented yesterday at the National Cancer Research Institute, looked at approximately 50,000 responses to Cancer Research UK's Cancer Awareness Measure, and found that people from an Afro-Caribbean background were half as likely as Caucasians to recognise symptoms of cancer, while South Asians were a quarter as likely to know that an unexplained lump was a sign of cancer.

The study also found that patients from ethnic minorities were less likely to visit a general practice to seek treatment. South Asians were the group most likely to report an 'embarrassment or a lack of confidence' as a reason not to visit a general practice. However, Caucasians cited wasting healthcare professionals' time as a major reason not to go to their local surgery.

Maja Niksic, study author at King's College London, said: 'This study highlights the need to develop more targeted health messages in order to encourage people with symptoms to visit their GPs sooner. It's essential that we tailor these messages to address the different needs and gaps in cancer awareness that exist between different ethnic groups. Early diagnosis is a vital part of improving survival from cancer, which is why it's essential to increase public awareness of the signs and symptoms of cancer - and encourage people to seek medical help if they notice any unexplained changes in their body.'

Professor Matthew Seymour, NCRI's clinical research director, said: 'This research highlights the importance of tailoring public health messages to different groups so that everyone has a better chance of beating cancer, regardless of their ethnic background. Being aware of common cancer symptoms, as well as being confident in seeking advice from the GP, gives people the best chance of getting diagnosed in the earliest stages, when treatment is more likely to be effective.'

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