BACKGROUND: Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in Australia. There is potential that health promotion about the risks and warning signs of lung cancer could be used to reduce delays in symptom presentation when symptoms are first detected. This study investigated knowledge, attitudes and beliefs which might impact help-seeking behaviour and could provide insight into possible public health interventions in New South Wales (NSW).
METHODS: A convergent mixed method study design was used wherein data from 16 qualitative focus groups of residents (40+ years), purposefully recruited and stratified by smoking status, age and geography (metropolitan/regional), were compared with a CATI administered population-wide telephone survey (n = 1,000) using the Cancer Research UK cancer awareness measure (LungCAM). Qualitative findings were analysed thematically using NVIVO. Logistic regression analysis was used to investigate predictors of symptom knowledge in STATA. Findings were integrated using triangulation techniques.
RESULTS: Across focus groups, haemoptysis was the only symptom creating a sense of medical urgency. Life experiences evoked a 'wait and see' attitude to any health deterioration. Perceived risk was low amongst those at risk with current smokers preferring to deny their risk while former smokers were generally unaware of any ongoing risk. The quantitative sample consisted of females (62 %), 40-65 years (53 %), low SES (53 %), former (46 %) and current smokers (14 %). In quantitative findings, haemoptysis and dyspnoea were the most recognised symptoms across the sample population. Age (<65 years), sex (female) and high socio-economic status contributed to a higher recognition of symptoms. Smoking was recognised as a cause of lung cancer, yet ever-smokers were less likely to recognise the risk of lung cancer due to second-hand smoke (OR 0.7 95 % CI 0.5-0.9).
CONCLUSION: While there was some recognition of risk factors and symptoms indicative of lung cancer, there was disparity across the sample population. The qualitative findings also suggest that knowledge may not lead to earlier presentation; a lack of urgency about symptoms considered trivial, and smoking-related barriers such as stigma may also contribute to time delays in presentation. Public health interventions may be required to increase awareness of risk and emphasise the importance of seeking medical attention for ongoing symptoms.