Cancer screening and diagnostic tests

Spotting cancer at an early stage means that treatment is more likely to be successful.

In England we have programmes of screening tests to help spot early signs. These are co-ordinated nationally. We also urge people to go to their GP if they notice any unusual changes, for example, sudden loss of weight, blood in stools or urine, or persistent coughs; symptoms which should be investigated further via diagnostic tests.

Too often people aren’t using screening programmes, or are reluctant to take diagnostic tests, particularly  tests which they think may be uncomfortable or intrusive like endoscopies.

Local research

NHS Kent and Medway CCG worked with system partners the Kent and Medway Cancer Alliance and our NHS trusts, to try and understand people’s attitudes to screening and diagnostic tests.  This has helped us find out about the barriers which prevent people coming forward for screening and tests, and to see how we can increase people’s understanding of the importance of early diagnosis. This should mean more cancers and illnesses being diagnosed early.

What we heard

In September and October 2021, 76 people took part in the research. People were interviewed or took part in focus groups.  The research included: men, people living in areas with high indices of deprivation, people from BAME communities, people living with a disability and people identifying as part of the LGBTQIA+ community to understand their reluctance, or lack of take up, in diagnostic testing.

Peoples' concerns around endoscopies included:
•    a previous negative experience, either personally or having heard from a close friend/relative
•    concerns about discomfort, pain, and embarrassment
•    a fear of the unknown.

The vast majority (91%) of participants reported that they knew about cancer screening, with the highest concentration of those who did not know about screening being people living within areas of deprivation.

And 88% of participants reported they would attend cancer screening, with people within disability and
LGBTQIA+ communities having the highest levels of refusal.

When asked about attending an endoscopy appointment, 92% of participants said they would attend saying: ‘if the need was greater than the fear, then I’d go’.

To find out more please read the full report on what people told us about having diagnostic tests such as endoscopy and the barriers they felt prevented them. 

What happens next?

Using this feedback, the Cancer Alliance will work with health and care partners including community members to address any anxieties and myths,  use co-design and co-production to influence change, create tools and relevant information to educate and inform,  ensuring materials and messaging is understandable and accessible to all.    

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