Do comorbidities influence help-seeking for cancer alarm symptoms? A population-based survey in England

19 Sep 2017

Background: We examined associations between different chronic morbidities and help-seeking for possible cancer symptoms. Methods: Postal survey of individuals aged >50 years in England. Participants could report prior morbidities in respect of 12 pre-defined conditions. Among patients experiencing possible cancer symptoms we examined associations between specific morbidities and self-reported help-seeking (i.e. contacted versus not contacted a GP) for each alarm symptom using regression analyses. Results: Among 2042 respondents (42% response rate), 936 (46%) recently experienced 1 of 14 possible cancer symptoms considered in our analysis. Of them, 80% reported one or more morbidities, most frequently hypertension/hypercholesterolemia (40%), osteomuscular (36%) and heart diseases (21%). After adjustment for socio-demographic characteristics, patients with hypertension/hypercholesterolemia were more likely to report help-seeking for possible cancer symptoms, such as unexplained cough (OR = 2.0; 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.1-3.5), pain (OR = 2.2; 95% CI 1.0-4.5) and abdominal bloating (OR = 2.3; 95% CI 1.1-4.8). Urinary morbidity was associated with increased help-seeking for abdominal bloating (OR = 5.4; 95% CI 1.2-23.7) or rectal bleeding (OR = 5.8; 95% CI 1.4-23.8). In contrast, heart problems reduced help-seeking for change in bowel habits (OR = 0.4; 95% CI 0.2-1.0). Conclusions: Comorbidities are common and may facilitate help-seeking for possible cancer symptoms, but associations vary for specific symptom-comorbidity pairs. The findings can contribute to the design of future cancer symptom awareness campaigns.