HealthDay News — Many patients ignore potential warning signs of cancer, results of a study published in PLOS ONE suggests.

“Reports from cancer patients indicate that in many cases they did not recognize the seriousness of their early symptoms, or they attributed them to non-disease causes and therefore did not seek help,” noted Katriina Whitaker, PhD, senior research fellow at University College London, and colleagues.

A questionnaire was mailed to patients aged 50 years and older (n=4,858), surveying symptom experience including unexplained cough, bleeding, or significant changes in bowl or bladder activity. The word cancer was not mentioned. Of the patients sent a questionnaire, 1,724 responded and were included in the analysis.

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Although 53% of the respondents reported they had experienced one of the potential cancer symptoms in the previous three months, only 2% thought cancer was a possible cause of those symptoms. In many cases, patients attributed potential signs of cancer to reasons such as age, infection, arthritis, cysts, and hemorrhoids.

“It’s worrying that even the more obvious warning symptoms, such as unexplained lumps or changes to the appearance of a mole, were rarely attributed to cancer, although they are often well recognized in surveys that assess the public’s knowledge of the disease,” said Whitaker in a Cancer Research U.K. press release.

“Even when people thought warning symptoms might be serious, cancer didn’t tend to spring to mind.”


  1. Whitaker K et al. PLOS ONE. 2014; doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0114028