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Feature

Dying of Embarrassment?

Posted on: 28 Mar 01
Dying of Embarrassment?

Summary

National Bowel Cancer Awareness Day was last month, you probably missed it, bowel cancer is something that most people would rather not be made aware of. But it is a frightening statistic that just un
National Bowel Cancer Awareness Day was last month, you probably missed it, bowel cancer is something that most people would rather not be made aware of. But it is a frightening statistic that just under half of the population will get some form of cancer in their lifetime. Yet what is more startling is that the second biggest killer after lung cancer is bowel cancer, a disease that is a taboo subject for many because of the nature of the condition.

As with all cancers it is imperative that the warning signs are detected early so effective treatment can be provided. The good news for sufferers is that bowel cancer is one of the most preventable cancers if we are prepared to bring this subject into the open. Knowledge is the key to make sure the number of people who die from the disease, over 17,000 every year in the UK, is dramatically reduced.

The main symptoms to watch for include rectal bleeding for no apparent reason, pain or itching, looser stools, needing to defecate more often or trying to go more often and recent, persistent change of bowel habit. These symptoms might indicate a far less serious ailment but it is obviously preferable to be sure.

If you feel you have a problem, see your pharmacist and if it persists for up to 6 weeks go to your doctor. However the clearest message is to talk about rather than trying to ignore this killer disease.

An extensive survey, carried out by BUPA to coincide with National Bowel Cancer Awareness Day, of more than 2,000 members of the population sought to find out how much the average person knew about bowel cancer and how willing they would be to discuss the situation. These were some of the findings:

Embarrassment levels when talking to family members were much higher in the 16-34 age group. 32% of the 35+ age group felt embarrassed to discuss bowel cancer symptoms with another member of their family; whereas as many as 59% of the 16-34 year old age group were embarrassed

Older groups were less embarrassed to consult their doctor about bowel cancer symptoms. Whereas only 26% of the 55+ age group were embarrassed to speak to their doctors, as many as 38% of the 35-45 age and 59% of the 16-34 age group admitted embarrassment.

People tend to become more knowledgeable about bowel cancer in mid-life. When prompted, 70% of those between the ages of 35-54 named rectal bleeding as one of the main symptoms of bowel cancer compared to 60% of those between the ages of 16-34 and 63% of those over 55.

33% of men and 25% of women would be willing to talk to their partner about bowel cancer symptoms. But men are less likely to speak to a close friend or family member. Women are twice as likely as men to talk to a close friend.

When prompted with a list of eight possible symptoms, 70% of women named rectal bleeding as one of the main symptoms of bowel cancer compared to only 57% of men.

Men are less willing to talk about their bowel habits, with 16% saying they would never talk to their family because "I wouldn't discuss bowel habits".

There is a marked difference in embarrassment levels when talking to a doctor about symptoms. While 64% of unmarrieds - who said they would speak to a doctor felt embarrassed, only 38% of married people felt the same.

Unmarrieds appeared to have less knowledge of bowel cancer symptoms than their married counterparts. When asked to choose from a prompted list of eight symptoms, only 54% of unmarrieds named rectal bleeding as one of the main symptoms of bowel cancer compared with 68% of marrieds.

Northerners are more comfortable discussing bowels with their partners than southerners. Of those who said they would speak to their partner about this, 80% of northerners were not at all embarrassed compared to 66% of southerners. 76% of those from the Midlands were not at all embarrassed speaking to their partner.

When asked to choose from a prompted list of eight symptoms, knowledge of the symptoms of bowel cancer varied across Great Britain. 67% of northerners named rectal bleeding as one of the main symptoms of bowel cancer compared with 65% of southerners and 58% of those from the Midlands. 21% of those in the Midlands could not name any of the main symptoms of bowel cancer.

The obvious conclusion from this survey is that there is a distinct reticence amongst the population in general to discuss the symptoms that may presage the development of bowel cancer. After the successful HIV awareness campaigns of the late eighties and early nineties perhaps it is time for the government to change their advice, from 'Don't die of Ignorance' to 'Don't die of Embarrassment'.

Mark Stacey

Last updated on: 27/08/2010 11:40:18

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