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Does Culture Impact Cancer Survival Rates in the UK?


It is well a known fact that a very British cultural trait is to keep yourself to yourself and not to bother others or cause them inconvenience.

The "stiff upper lip" as it is sometimes known.

Research suggests that this might be the reason why the UK cancer survival rate is one of Europe’s lowest.

According to The BBC, researchers have studied the cancer survival rates in six different high-income European countries.

Of the about 20,000 adults that were interviewed, it was discovered that Britons often keep the doctor at bay because they are embarrassed of their problems. Even though they knew as much about cancer symptoms as the test subjects in Australia, Canada, Denmark, Norway and Sweden, they were less eager to pay a visit to the doctor’s office: a third of the Britons even were afraid they were wasting their practitioner’s time.

In the 50-and-over group that was involved in the research that was carried out by King’s College London and University College London, one in six was embarrassed to tell their doctor about their symptoms. In their report in the British Journal of Cancer, the researchers noted that this might be the reason for the low cancer survival rate in the UK.

Even though Britons have access to skilled medics and state-of-the-art treatments, their chances of survival are slimmer than those of people in other developed countries. Other studies about cancer survival have placed the UK behind the other countries that were investigated in this study as well.

If these rates would be on par with the best survival rates in Europa, this would annually save 5,000 UK lives. This is why former Health Secretary Andrew Lansley vowed in the government’s cancer strategy to improve these rates to the standard of the best European rates before the next general elections in 2015.

Dr. Lindsay Forbes, lead researcher, says: ‘This is a real UK phenomenon. UK people really stood out in our study. As a nation we are much more likely to say we are embarrassed about going to the doctor or we are worried that we will take up a doctor’s time. We don’t know why British people feel like that. It may be that we are more stoic and have a war-time mentality.’

Cancer Research’s Sara Hiom stated that the charity... 'and others are working hard to understand and address these potential barriers to early presentation and encourage people to tell their doctor if they have noticed something different about their body.’ In addition, Hiom believes awareness must be raised about the fact that the older you are, the higher your chance of getting cancer.

Next to the UK, Denmark also has quite a low cancer survival rate. Researchers think this might have something to do with the delays in the access of patients to hospital care, which might partly be the reason for the low UK survival rate too.

In this supplementary link, The Nuffield Trust provides further research into survival rates across countries, (2020).

Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

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