Public awareness of warning signs for cancer in Britain

Cancer Causes Control. 2001 Jan;12(1):33-7. doi: 10.1023/a:1008975416756.


Background: The objective of this study was to establish the level of public awareness of warning signs for cancer in Britain.

Methods: An interview-based survey of a representative sample of the UK population was undertaken; 3693 men and women completed the interview (69% response rate). The data from this survey included demographic characteristics as well as recognition of the 'seven warning signs for cancer'.

Findings: Results revealed that recognition of signs ranged from 81% ('thickening or lump'; n = 2994) to 37% ('indigestion/difficulty swallowing'; n = 1356). On average participants identified 4.2 of the signs, with only 1.6% (n = 58) identifying all seven. There were strong associations with demographic characteristics, with better recognition being associated with being female, married, higher socioeconomic status (SES), higher income, a homeowner and having more years of education.

Interpretation: From these results we conclude that fewer than one in ten of the UK population can recognize seven warning signs for cancer, but the mean number recognized (4.2 signs) suggests that there is a reasonable level of public awareness. It must be cause for concern that most markers of lower SES are independently associated with poorer recognition, suggesting that public education needs to do more to narrow the inequalities in health knowledge.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Educational Status
  • Female
  • Health Education / standards*
  • Humans
  • Income / statistics & numerical data
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Needs Assessment
  • Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Occupations / statistics & numerical data
  • Self Care
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United Kingdom