Background: English Be Clear on Cancer (BCOC) campaigns aim to promote early presentation of potential cancer symptoms by (i) giving information on symptoms to look out for, and (ii) emphasising the approachability of the general practitioner (GP). This study examined public awareness of the targeted symptoms and perceived approachability of the GP before and after the national bowel and lung campaigns.
Methods: The Cancer Research UK Cancer Awareness Measure (CAM) was included in the Opinions and Lifestyle survey (known then as the 'Opinions Survey') run by the Office for National Statistics in October and November 2010 and 2012. Change in awareness of symptoms and barriers to help-seeking related to those targeted in the campaigns between the 2010 and 2012 surveys, was compared with change in awareness of symptoms and barriers not targeted by the campaigns.
Results: Recall of 'persistent cough' or 'hoarseness' as a sign of cancer increased from 18% in 2010 to 26% in 2012 (P<0.001), and 'change in bowel/bladder habits' increased from 21% to 43% (P<0.01). Recognition of these symptoms (from a list of symptoms) also increased significantly (both P-values <0.01). Awareness of non-targeted symptoms did not increase (all P-values >0.02). Barriers to visiting the GP targeted in the campaign (the doctor would be difficult to talk to and being worried about wasting the doctor's time) did not change, although several non-targeted barriers reduced.
Conclusions: BCOC campaigns run in England in 2012 were associated with increased public awareness of some key symptoms of lung and bowel cancer. Barriers to visiting the GP that were targeted in the campaign were not reduced, indicating that a different approach may be needed to shift public attitudes towards GPs.