Patients can endanger their lives by not being forthcoming with doctors. PHOTO: Reuters
British cancer patients have a low survival rate relative to other developed nations, and researchers may now know why: embarrassment. A study by King's College London and University College London found that British people were equally aware of cancer signs and symptoms as people in Sweden, Australia, Canada, Denmark and Norway, but that they were less likely to mention them to a doctor due to social anxiety and fear of wasting the doctor's time. The researchers only asked about anxiety related to describing symptoms to a doctor-- the study was not directed at cancer patients. The researchers drew the connection to cancer mortality in Britain (specifically England, Wales and Northern Ireland, but for whatever reason, not Scotland).
Lead researcher Dr Lindsay Forbes said:
"This is a real UK phenomenon. UK people really stood out in our study....As a nation we are much more likely to say we are embarrassed about going to the doctor or we are worried that we will take up a doctor's time....We don't know why British people feel like that. It may be that we are more stoic and have a war-time mentality....We know that older people in particular can get a symptom and then wait for weeks or months before going to see their doctor."
It's a valuable lesson to all of us, and not just with cancer: anxiety itself won't kill you, but anxiety that stops you from talking about a problem can.