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Cancer symptom awareness and barriers to medical help seeking in Scottish adolescents: a cross-sectional study.

Hubbard, Gill; Macmillan, Iona; Canny, Anne; Forbat, Liz; Neal, Richard D; O�Carroll, Ronan E; Haw, Sally; Kyle, Richard G


Gill Hubbard

Iona Macmillan

Anne Canny

Liz Forbat

Richard D Neal

Ronan E O�Carroll

Sally Haw

Richard G Kyle


Background: Initiatives to promote early diagnosis include raising public awareness of signs and symptoms of
cancer and addressing barriers to seeking medical help about cancer. Awareness of signs and symptoms of cancer
and emotional barriers, such as, fear, worry, and embarrassment strongly influence help seeking behaviour. Whether
anxiety influences seeking medical help about cancer is not known. The purpose of this study about adolescents
was to examine: 1) the relationship between contextual factors and awareness of signs and symptoms of cancer
and barriers (including emotional barriers) to seeking medical help, and 2) associations between anxiety and
endorsed barriers to seeking medical help. Interpretation of data is informed by the common sense model of the
self-regulation of health and illness.
Methods: A cross-sectional study of 2,173 Scottish adolescents (age 12/13 years) using the Cancer Awareness
Measure. Socio-demographic questions were also included. Descriptive statistics were calculated and two Poisson
regression models were built to determine independent predictors of: 1) the number of cancer warning signs
recognized, and; 2) number of barriers to help seeking endorsed.
Results: Analysis identified that knowing someone with cancer was a significant independent predictor of
recognising more cancer warning signs whereas Black and Minority Ethnic status was a significant independent
predictor of recognising fewer cancer warning signs. Emotional barriers were the most commonly endorsed,
followed by family, service and practical barriers. Over two thirds of adolescents were ‘worried about what the
doctor would find’ and over half were ‘scared’. Higher anxiety scores, knowing more cancer warning signs and
female gender were significant independent predictors of barriers to help seeking.
Conclusion: Improving cancer awareness and help seeking behaviour during adolescence may contribute to early
presentation. Contextual factors (for example, ethnicity, gender, knowing someone with cancer), and emotional
dimensions (for example, anxiety, fear, worry) are critical components in help seeking behaviours. The role of
emotional factors indicates that public health campaigns focused on awareness and help seeking may benefit from
having a more emotional focus, for example, including references to feelings, such as, fears and worries.

Journal Article Type Article
Online Publication Date Oct 29, 2014
Publication Date 2014-12
Deposit Date Jan 19, 2015
Publicly Available Date Jan 19, 2015
Electronic ISSN 1471-2458
Publisher BMC
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 14
Issue 1
Pages 1117
Keywords Public cancer awareness; Early diagnosis; Help seeking behaviour; Adolescents
Public URL
Publisher URL
Contract Date Jan 19, 2015


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