Cancer awareness 'low in black and South Asian groups'

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Image caption People from black and South Asian backgrounds have poorer survival rates for some cancers

Black and South Asian people in England are less aware of the warning signs of cancer than white people, according to research led by King's College London.

The study of nearly 50,000 people found those with a black ethnic background were least likely to recognise a persistent cough as a possible symptom.

And South Asians reported more than others that embarrassment could stop them seeking medical help.

The research was presented at England's largest cancer conference.

People across England were asked a series of face-to-face or telephone questions about the signs and symptoms of cancer and how likely they were to speak to doctors if they had concerns.

Questions included:

  • Could you state the symptoms of cancer that you know of?
  • Are unexplained weight loss and unexplained lumps or swellings signs of cancer?

A team of researchers from eight English universities found black, South Asian and people who identified themselves as 'other ethnic group' were less likely to recognise all cancer symptoms included in the questionnaire than white respondents.

While 93% of white participants said a change in the appearance of a mole could indicate the presence of cancer, just 72% of black people and 70% of South Asians recognised this as a potential sign.

And black and South Asian groups were four times less likely to recognise an unexpected lump or swelling as a possible warning of cancer.

In terms of barriers to seeking help, a quarter of white people said they would be worried about wasting a doctor's time, compared to 19% of South Asians and 16% in the black ethnic group.

Sara Hiom at Cancer Research UK said: "Thousands of people beat cancer every year and treatment is more likely to be successful when cancer is diagnosed in the earliest stages.

"Getting to know your body and what's normal for you will help you spot anything unusual or persistent."

Right message

Lead researcher, Maja Niksic, said: "Evidence suggests people of minority ethnic backgrounds have poorer survival rates for certain cancers and they are more likely to present when the tumour is advanced.

"We need to find ways to present the right health messages to target different needs and different gaps in awareness to give people the same chance of beating cancer regardless of ethnic background."

The authors say previous studies suggested poverty and employment levels could contribute to lower awareness among certain groups.

But when they took socioeconomic status, age, education, employment and gender into account, the results did not change.

Participants were asked to choose from the following categories: black (included black African, black Caribbean, black other), white (white British, white Irish and any other white), South Asian (Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi and other South Asian) and other (Chinese and mixed ethnicities).

The research was presented at the National Cancer Research Institute (NCRI) Cancer Conference.

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