UCL Health


Promoting cancer awareness

Promoting cancer awareness, help-seeking for possible cancer symptoms, and participation in cancer screening programmes and reducing health inequalities

People balanced on large scale

20 June 2024


Given the importance of knowledge and norms surrounding early diagnosis behaviours (including help-seeking and screening uptake), public health education campaigns to raise awareness of possible cancer symptoms and encourage appropriate help-seeking for possible cancer symptoms have been core to cancer control efforts in England for over a decade. Crucial to the success of campaigns is reaching people across sociodemographic groups, and tackling lack of awareness alongside other important barriers (e.g. worry about wasting doctors’ time, perceived entitlement to healthcare, fear).  

Screening participation is also influenced by knowledge, beliefs and attitudes about cancer and perceived entitlement to health care. Therefore, public health education interventions can optimise informed participation in cancer screening (e.g. through diverse communication channels, integration of additional health care professionals, and more targeted and culturally adapted messages). Barriers to screening participation vary according to the type of screening programme and challenges with specific population groups.   

Aims and objectives

Working in partnership with NHS England and screening programmes colleagues, we will explore opportunities to develop campaign concepts to improve uptake of screening participation across different programmes, including symptomatic presentation as another early detection behaviour. 

  • To understand cancer awareness, attitudes and screening uptake in groups currently under-served in early diagnosis research (e.g. this includes but is not limited to ethnic minorities, people from lower socioeconomic communities, people living with multiple long-term health conditions (including mental health morbidity), people with learning disabilities, sexual and gender minority groups). 
  • To apply an intersectional framework to understand how sociodemographic characteristics (e.g. gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, comorbidity/longer-term conditions) interconnect with broader contexts (e.g. religion) and social processes (e.g. discrimination) to influence symptomatic presentation and screening uptake. 
  • To use the learning from studies 1-2 to co-create and test new campaign messages/interventions informed by behavioural and implementation theory. 

Policy Relevance & Dissemination  

There is an urgent need to both: Progress the evidence base for ongoing investment in public health education campaigns and other interventions to improve behaviours conducive to early diagnosis, and: Reduce healthcare inequalities in help-seeking and participation in cancer screening, both nationally and between/within local geographies in line with Core20PLUS5 and the NHS Long-term Plan. 

There are multiple relevant stakeholders, including communities, health and social care professionals, the voluntary sector, policymakers and commissioners. We will directly engage with DHSC policy teams, developing policy briefings to be shared with the National Screening Committee, the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities (OHID), health and social care professionals, Integrated Care Boards, National Healthcare Inequalities Improvement Programme [HiQiP) and other stakeholders.  

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The NIHR Policy Research Unit in Cancer Awareness, Screening and Early Diagnosis is part of the NIHR and hosted by UCL.