It seems simple doesn’t it? You notice something concerning, book an appointment and head to the doctor to get it checked out. Easy – as a patient all you have to do is get yourself there and the doctor will do the rest.
And yet delays in seeking medical advice, particularly in relation to suspected cancer, are a well-documented occurrence.
We’re particularly interested in this phenomenon as a result of our work with melanoma.
Patient delay in seeking help for melanoma can have a huge impact on outcomes. If melanoma is caught early, at stage 1, it’s curable in around 97% of cases – and a simple procedure (cutting the mole out) can be all that’s needed. If it’s caught later, once it’s had a chance to grow and spread, then survival rates drop as low as 10%. So for melanoma, early detection is key.
So how do we get people to take action sooner? First we have to find out why people delay seeking help.
This report by Cancer Research UK digs deeper into the factors surrounding delay. They found that reasons for patient delays fell into roughly two categories.
The first was a lack of awareness of symptoms. Some people simply weren’t aware of the symptoms – be it a lump, unexpected bleeding, pain or a changing mole.
Lack of awareness is a familiar problem and from a public health point of view it’s a bit more obvious what we have to do – help people understand and remember what to look out for. It’s about education and knowledge sharing.
What’s more intriguing is the second category of reasons for patient delays, relating to attitudes to cancer and to seeking help.
The top three “attitude” reasons for failing to seek help were: being worried about what the doctor might find; assuming it would be difficult to make an appointment; and being worried about wasting the doctor’s time.
For melanoma this can be particularly powerful – a patient may ask themselves all sorts of questions before seeking help.
Is that really a new mole or have I just not noticed it before? Is it changing shape or am I imagining things? What if it’s just a freckle and I’m wasting my doctor’s time? What if it is melanoma – what do I do then?
This is where we want our service to transform patient experience. We want to help people overcome the barriers in those moments by giving them a safe and effective tool to understand their symptoms and make that decision sooner. We aim to make people feel confident when checking their skin. And in that confidence we want to see better outcomes and lives saved.