To assess British adolescents’: awareness of cancer symptoms, common cancers, and the relationship between cancer and age; perceived delay and barriers to seeking medical advice; and examine variation by age, gender, ethnicity and whether individuals knew someone with cancer.
A survey was conducted using a modified paper version of the Cancer Awareness Measure (CAM). The sample included 478 adolescents (male: 52.3%) aged 11-17 years (M=13.8, SD=1.24) recruited from four UK schools between August and October 2011. Socio-demographic questions were included to gather data on: age, gender, ethnicity, and whether the student had been diagnosed with cancer or knew a relative or friend who had been diagnosed with cancer.
Adolescents’ cancer awareness was low. Half of all adolescents did not know the most common childhood (51%) or teenage (49%) cancers and most (69%) believed cancer was unrelated to age. Awareness of cancer symptoms was significantly higher among older adolescents (aged 13-17 years) (p=0.003) and those who knew someone with cancer (p<0.001). Three-quarters (74%) of adolescents indicated they would seek help for a symptom they thought might be cancer within 3 days, and half (48%) within 24 hours. The most endorsed barriers to help-seeking were ‘worry about what the doctor might find’ (72%), being ‘too embarrassed’ (56%), ‘too scared’ (54%) and ‘not feeling confident to talk about symptoms’ (53%). Endorsement of these emotional barriers was significantly higher among females (p≤0.001).
There are certain groups of adolescents with poor cancer awareness. Cancer messages need to be targeted and tailored to particular groups to prevent the emergence of health inequalities in adulthood. Interventions to raise adolescents’ cancer awareness have the potential for a life-long impact on encouraging early diagnosis and survival.