POSTED: January 10 2019
Embarrassment causing millions to delay getting cancer symptoms checked

Embarrassment causing millions to delay getting cancer symptoms checked

Embarrassment is causing millions of Brits to delay getting symptoms checked, according to new research.

The research1 from leading health insurer, Bupa confirms that one in five UK adults (21%) – or 6.6 million people – who have experienced a potential cancer symptom have delayed seeking medical help due to embarrassment about the symptom, or its location. More than 5.1 million have avoided going to the doctor altogether, risking a serious condition going undiagnosed and untreated to save their blushes.

Vaginal bleeding was viewed as the most embarrassing symptom to discuss, followed by pain in the pelvis or groin, blood or pain in urinating and bleeding from the bottom2.

Research shows that early diagnosis and treatment can have a significant impact in improving health outcomes. However, the “embarrassment factor” is causing people to delay seeing a health professional for more than two months, on average. Certain symptoms lead to longer delays, with people suffering from changes in bladder or bowel habits holding off seeking help for an average of almost 10 weeks (68 days). Those experiencing irregular vaginal bleeding would wait for 66 days and those with a lump in the testicle wait for 62 days4.

Over half of bashful Brits (54%)5 say they delay seeing a medical expert as they wouldn’t know how to start a conversation about their symptom. A third (36%) of those people would prefer to speak to someone over the phone. A similar number (30%) say they had previously looked online rather than visit the doctor. One in five people admit that they have been so embarrassed by their symptoms that they only sought help after being convinced by their partner.

Julia Ross, Head of Cancer Care at Bupa UK, said: “When you notice something’s not right with your body it can be daunting, whatever the symptoms. It’s important to remember that the role of medical professionals is to help you understand your body, providing you with peace of mind or signposting you to the most appropriate treatment and support for your condition.

“Fast access to treatment can help aid recovery and the long-term management of an illness. I’d always encourage people not to delay seeing a health profession if they are experiencing worrying symptoms even if you are concerned about embarrassment.”


How to raise those ‘embarrassing’ issues

Bupa oncology nurse Helen Dutton has some suggestions on how to raise those ‘embarrassing’ issues with a medical professional:

Remember, they’ve heard it all before

Although your symptom may be unusual to you, a health professional is likely to have seen, and dealt with something similar before. It’s their job to understand what’s going on with your body, providing you with the appropriate treatment and support.

Find your comfort zone

If you’d find it easier discussing your symptoms with a medical professional who is of the same gender, you can request this.

Write it down

If you find it difficult to find the right words when you’re faced with explaining your symptoms, writing them down may help. Reading the words may make you feel more at ease – alternatively your GP can easily read what you’ve written.



About the research

Opinium Research surveyed 2,004 UK adults (18 and over) between 2 and 6 November 2018.

1.Opinium estimates the UK adult population is 52,079,000; 21% of people who had experienced a symptom said they had delayed seeking medical help: equating to 6.6 million people

  1. 78% of people said they would be embarrassed to speak to their GP about irregular vaginal bleeding, 77% about pain in the pelvis or groin, 76% about pain in urinating and 75% about bleeding from the bottom
  2. Statistic from Cancer Research UK
  3. Respondents reported to waiting for an average 9.7 weeks before visiting the doctor with a change in bowel or bladder habits, 9.4 weeks with irregular vaginal bleeding and 8.9 weeks with a lump or pain in testicle
  4. Those who would be embarrassed to discuss a symptom


You can see the original Bupa press release here.