The research out of the University of Surrey is the first of its kind and was funded by Cancer Research UK. It examined patients’ attentiveness to their bodies as well as their willingness to talk to a physician about their symptoms.
The study involved a group of more than 2,000 people, all over the age of 50. The participants were asked whether they had experienced one or more of 14 ‘cancer alarm symptoms’ over a period of a couple of months. Those symptoms included things like persistent cough and changes in bowel habits.
While almost half of the participants (46 percent) reported at least one of the symptoms during the three month span, only 63 percent of those sought the help of a physician or medical expert. The researchers also found that people who were more ‘body vigilant’ were much more likely to contact a professional for at least one of the ‘alarm’ signs.
The results are not surprising to Dr. Heidi Memmel, a breast surgeon at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Ill.
“So many people, especially women, are so busy taking care of their family, busy with their careers and just busy in general that they forget to listen to their own bodies when something is wrong,” she says.
“Far too many cases of cancer are diagnosed at a late stage, which severely reduces chances of survival,” said lead author Dr. Katriina Whitaker in a release.
Cancer is the second leading cause of death, with nearly 600,000 Americans succumbing to the disease each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Cancer that is diagnosed early has a better chance of a successful treatment, so seeking help is critical if you experience an alarming cancer symptom.
Dr. Memmel emphasizes the importance of undergoing routine screening tests like mammograms and colonoscopies. “These tests have been shown to detect cancer earlier when it’s easier to treat and cure,” she explains. “It’s also important to see your doctor regularly and report any concerning changes, like pain that won’t go away or significant weight loss without trying.”
A full list of the 14 cancer ‘alarm’ symptoms from the study is included below:
- Persistent cough or hoarseness
- Unexplained lump
- Unexplained weight loss
- Change in the appearance of a mole or a new mole
- Persistent change in bowel habits
- Persistent change in bladder habits
- Abdominal bloating (i.e. bloating of the tummy or belly)
- Unexplained pain
- Difficulty swallowing
- Blood in urine
- Rectal bleeding (i.e. bleeding from the back passage or blood in the bowel motions)
- Other unexplained bleeding
- Any breast changes
- A sore that does not heal