Barriers to lung cancer diagnosis: why people fail to seek help for symptoms

A summary of research published in NPJ Primary Care Respiratory Medicine

A new study investigated reasons why people might delay going to see their family doctor when they experience lung cancer symptoms.

When people first experience lung cancer symptoms, it is important that they visit their family doctor as soon as possible. The earlier lung cancer is diagnosed, the easier it is to treat.

What did the study look at?

Researchers collected information from 35,938 people in Denmark, aged 40 years and over. Participants completed a survey about:

  • lung cancer symptoms,
  • family doctor contact,
  • barriers to visiting a doctor, and
  • smoking status.

Researchers also gathered information about the participants’ social and economic status, such as their income, job and ethnic group.

What do the results show?

There were several findings:

  • People were more likely to visit their doctor if they had more than one lung cancer symptom.
  • “Being worried about wasting the doctor’s time” and “Being too busy” were the most common reasons reported for not visiting a doctor.
  • “Being worried about what the doctor might find” was also common for people who experienced a long-term cough and shortness of breath.
  • People who currently smoke, immigrants and people who were unemployed were more likely to delay a visit to the doctor.
Why is this important?

This study provides an important insight into why some people might not seek help for lung cancer symptoms. Survival rates for lung cancer vary but often improve when cancer is detected early. It is crucial to encourage people to visit their doctor when they first notice any symptoms.

The authors suggest that information target the groups who are at risk of delaying appointments. Information should stress that anyone experiencing worrying symptoms should book an appointment with their doctor and that this is never a waste of a doctor’s time.

Further reading

Read the original research paper:

Title: A population-based study on social inequality and barriers to healthcare-seeking with lung cancer symptoms

Access ELF resources on lung cancer: