Background: There are wide international differences in 1-year cancer survival. The UK and Denmark perform poorly compared with other high-income countries with similar health care systems: Australia, Canada and Sweden have good cancer survival rates, Norway intermediate survival rates. The objective of this study was to examine the pattern of differences in cancer awareness and beliefs across these countries to identify where these might contribute to the pattern of survival.
Methods: We carried out a population-based telephone interview survey of 19079 men and women aged ≥ 50 years in Australia, Canada, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and the UK using the Awareness and Beliefs about Cancer measure.
Results: Awareness that the risk of cancer increased with age was lower in the UK (14%), Canada (13%) and Australia (16%) but was higher in Denmark (25%), Norway (29%) and Sweden (38%). Symptom awareness was no lower in the UK and Denmark than other countries. Perceived barriers to symptomatic presentation were highest in the UK, in particular being worried about wasting the doctor's time (UK 34%; Canada 21%; Australia 14%; Denmark 12%; Norway 11%; Sweden 9%).
Conclusion: The UK had low awareness of age-related risk and the highest perceived barriers to symptomatic presentation, but symptom awareness in the UK did not differ from other countries. Denmark had higher awareness of age-related risk and few perceived barriers to symptomatic presentation. This suggests that other factors must be involved in explaining Denmark's poor survival rates. In the UK, interventions that address barriers to prompt presentation in primary care should be developed and evaluated.