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Largest international cancer awareness and beliefs study released

Thursday 31 January, 2013

Victorian results show 1 in 5 wouldn't go to the doctor for fear of what they might find

Victorians are less likely to be aware that age increases their risk of cancer than some of our global counterparts but we don't seem to suffer the 'stiff upper lip' that stops the British going to the doctor when they have symptoms, according to a global study released today.

The international study, published today in the British Journal of Cancer, is the largest of its kind, and suggests that cultural factors may help explain some of the differences in cancer survival rates between 'high income' countries.

In partnership with Cancer Research UK and Ipsos MORI, the team surveyed 19,079 men and women aged 50 and older in Australia (4,002 individuals), Canada (2,064), Denmark (2,000), Norway (2,009), Sweden (2,039) and the UK (6,965). In Victoria, this paper was the result of a partnership between Cancer Council Victoria and the Department of Health.

CEO of Cancer Council Victoria, Todd Harper said he was pleased to see that Australians, and Victorians in particular, had less cultural barriers than our UK counterparts when it came to going to the doctor.

"Early detection makes a big difference when it comes to cancer survival. For example, if bowel cancer is found early you have a 90% chance of being cured.

"What is concerning is that around a quarter of Victorians said they would be too worried about the results or they were too busy to go a doctor if they had a symptom that they thought could be serious. For these people it's important to stress that many more people are surviving cancer today than ever before and the earlier they are diagnosed the more chance they have of surviving it.

"We need to work to improve people's perceptions that cancer is not always a death sentence. In fact, the five-year survival for Victorians with cancer has increased significantly over the past 20 years as we are getting better at treating, detecting and preventing cancer," said Mr Harper.

Study highlights

  • Only 18% of Victorians know that the risk of cancer increases with age.
  • 11% of Victorians surveyed said they would be too embarrassed to go the doctor with a symptom that might be serious compared to 14.5% of Britons and 5.8% of Danes.
  • Victorians were less worried (14.5%) about wasting the doctor‟s time with their symptoms than 34% of Britons and 21% of Canadians.
  • Nearly one in four Victorians said they were too busy to go to a doctor, which was similar to other countries surveyed.
  • 23% of Victorians said they would put off going to the doctor if they had a symptom that might be serious because they're worried about what the doctor might find.
  • Victorians are slightly less positive about a cancer diagnosis with 89% believing cancer can often be cured compared with 93% in Britain and 94% in Norway and Sweden.
  • 73% of Victorians disagreed that a cancer diagnosis was a death sentence.

About the study

The study is part of the International Cancer Benchmarking Partnership (ICBP), a unique global collaboration, which has previously found that for lung, breast, bowel and ovary cancers diagnosed in between 1995 and 2007, Australia, Canada, Sweden and Norway had the highest rates of survival, and Denmark and UK the lowest, despite all the countries having similarly good cancer registration systems and good access to health care. For example, one year survival of those diagnosed with lung cancer between 2000 and 2002 for the UK was 28% compared to 41% in Australia. The researchers therefore wanted to find out whether survival rates for a country might be influenced by the population‟s cancer awareness and beliefs.

Ways to decrease your risk of cancer

More than a third of all cancers are preventable by lifestyle changes. Cancer Council Victoria recommends:

  1. Eating a healthy diet with two serves of fruit and five serves of vegetables every day
  2. Maintaining a healthy weight
  3. Exercising regularly
  4. Quitting smoking (if you smoke)
  5. Drinking less alcohol (if you drink)
  6. Being SunSmart
  7. Getting checked regularly – there are cancer screening tests, which may be appropriate for you so speak to your GP. Early detection of cancer gives you the best chance of survival.  

For more tips visit Cut Your Cancer Risk.