4 MIN READ | Wellness

News Release

When Ignorance Isn’t Bliss: 88% of Brits Can’t Identify Common Symptoms of Cancer

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News Release, (2022, January 17). When Ignorance Isn’t Bliss: 88% of Brits Can’t Identify Common Symptoms of Cancer. Psychreg on Wellness. https://www.psychreg.org/when-ignorance-bliss-brits-cant-identify-common-symptoms-cancer/
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When it comes to cancer, two concepts are common knowledge. The first is that cancer can be deadly. The second is that patients have a higher chance of a full recovery if the cancer is treated early. However, new research by specialist lawyers Bolt Burdon Kemp has shown that, perhaps, our own lack of knowledge is what may be the biggest risk factor of all.  

A survey of 2,000 respondents from the UK has found that knowledge about cancer is severely lacking, with 88% of respondents unable to identify symptoms commonly associated with cancer. With cancer accounting for more than a quarter of all deaths in the UK, this lack of awareness could have devastating consequences. 

Is the education system failing Brits with regards to their health? The full findings from the survey suggest this might indeed be the case:

Brits lack knowledge about symptoms of cancer

Through a multiple-choice, ‘tick any that apply’ question, the survey gave respondents a list of 10 symptoms, and asked them to choose the ones they believed to be common symptoms of cancer. Only seven of the options were correct, while the other three were options that are not typically warning signs of cancer. 

Only 12% of respondents were able to correctly identify all seven symptoms without picking an incorrect one.

A further look into the rest of the respondents reveals a shocking lack of knowledge about this aspect of cancer:

  • Only 37% of Brits were able to identify at least one correct symptom of cancer without picking an incorrect one.
  • Half of the survey respondents (50%) were able to identify at least one correct symptom of cancer.
  • A third of Brits (33%) identified some correct symptoms, although they did also pick at least one incorrect one.
  • 5% of Brits incorrectly stated that none of the symptoms we listed were symptoms of cancer.

A patient being aware of the common early signs of cancer – and being able to identify them in their own body – is a key first step in delivering timely cancer treatment. It’s important that the government works positively with the NHS and cancer charities to empower the public and arm them with the necessary knowledge to help catch cancer as early as possible. 

Brits’ lack of basic anatomy knowledge is worrying

Unfortunately, further findings from the survey suggest there is a long way to go when it comes to educating Brits about cancer. The survey found that, on average, 6 in 10 Brits (59%) can’t identify the body parts associated with major cancers. 

Delving deeper, 13% of survey respondents were unable to locate the brain, whilst half of Brits don’t know where the lungs are in the human body. The survey also found that 57% of Brits don’t know where the large intestines are, which is problematic considering bowel cancer (or colorectal cancer) is one of the most common types of cancer in the UK.

The survey also found that:

  • Almost 8 in 10 respondents are unable to locate the prostate (78%).
  • Over 7 in 10 respondents are unable to locate the liver (74%).
  • Almost 7 in 10 respondents are unable to locate the stomach (67%).
  • Over 6 in 10 respondents are unable to locate the cervix (65%).
  • Over 6 in 10 respondents are unable to locate the pancreas (66%).

Women are more knowledgeable about cancers than men

There’s an interesting gender divide when looking specifically at reproductive cancers such as prostate cancer and cervical cancer. 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the survey found that more men than women say they know about prostate cancer, and more women than men say they know about cervical cancer. However, women are generally more knowledgeable about reproductive cancers than men. When you combine the percentage of people who say they don’t know anything about either of these cancers, this works out to 77% for men and 59% for women.

To specify:

  • 30% of men and 36% of women say they don’t know anything about prostate cancer.
  • 47% of men and 23% of women say they don’t know anything about cervical cancer.

On the opposite scale:

  • 19% of men and 9% of women say they know a lot about prostate cancer or are experts on it.
  • 11% of men and 18% of women say they know a lot about cervical cancer or are experts on it.

When asked to identify the cervix and the prostate on an image of the human body, both genders did badly, although women fared better than men:

  • Only 1 in 5 men (20%) were able to identify the prostate.
  • 2 in 5 women (39%) were able to identify the cervix.
  • Women were better than men in identifying the prostate (25% of women vs 20% of men).
  • Women were better than men in identifying the cervix (39% of women vs 31% of men).

Both men and women were better at identifying the cervix than the prostate 

Women were also generally better at identifying early onset symptoms of cancer. Of those who were able to pick all 7 of the listed symptoms without choosing an incorrect answer, 53% were women while only 47% were men. Likewise, of those who were unable to identify at least one correct symptom of cancer, only 38% were women in contrast to 62% being men.

Pancreatic cancer is the most misunderstood cancer overall. Looking across the entirety of the survey, pancreatic cancer came out on top as the most misunderstood cancer overall. 

Half of the respondents said they don’t know about pancreatic cancer (half also said the same about oesophageal cancer), while 7 in 10 said they were not confident about what they did know about pancreatic cancer. Over 6 in 10 respondents (66%) were also unable to locate the pancreas on an image of the human body. 

According to Pancreatic Cancer UK, pancreatic cancer has the lowest survival rate of all common cancers. This lack of public knowledge might be playing a part in this.

How to check for cancer

While it can be difficult to check for some cancers early – pancreatic cancer being one of them – there are some common cancer symptoms you can keep an eye out for.

Here are some symptoms could be warning signs that you may have cancer:

  • Persistent cough or hoarseness
  • Persistent unexplained pain
  • Unexplained lump or swelling
  • Unexplained bleeding
  • Persistent change in bowel or bladder habits
  • Persistent difficulty swallowing
  • Change in appearance of a mole
  • Sore that does not heal
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • A dark line on the nails

In general, if you have any persistent pain or ailments, or have unexplained changes occurring in your body, you may want to seek medical advice. By becoming more aware of our own bodies, and acting quickly if we spot any problems, we can give ourselves a better fighting chance against all types of cancer.


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