Background: Understanding what influences people to seek help can inform interventions to promote earlier diagnosis of cancer, and ultimately better cancer survival. We aimed to examine relationships between negative cancer beliefs, recognition of cancer symptoms and how long people think they would take to go to the doctor with possible cancer symptoms (anticipated patient intervals).
Methods: Telephone interviews of 20,814 individuals (50+) in the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, Denmark, Norway and Sweden were carried out using the Awareness and Beliefs about Cancer Measure (ABC). ABC included items on cancer beliefs, recognition of cancer symptoms and anticipated time to help-seeking for cough and rectal bleeding. The anticipated time to help-seeking was dichotomised as over one month for persistent cough and over one week for rectal bleeding.
Results: Not recognising persistent cough/hoarseness and unexplained bleeding as cancer symptoms increased the likelihood of a longer anticipated patient interval for persistent cough (OR = 1.66; 95%CI = 1.47-1.87) and rectal bleeding (OR = 1.90; 95%CI = 1.58-2.30), respectively. Endorsing four or more out of six negative beliefs about cancer increased the likelihood of longer anticipated patient intervals for persistent cough and rectal bleeding (OR = 2.18; 95%CI = 1.71-2.78 and OR = 1.97; 95%CI = 1.51-2.57). Many negative beliefs about cancer moderated the relationship between not recognising unexplained bleeding as a cancer symptom and longer anticipated patient interval for rectal bleeding (p = 0.005).
Conclusions: Intervention studies should address both negative beliefs about cancer and knowledge of symptoms to optimise the effect.
Keywords: Behavioural medicine; Primary health care; Surveys and questionnaires; Telephone.