Smokers are less likely than non-smokers to seek help for a lung cancer 'alarm' symptom
Background The majority (>85%) of lung cancer cases are linked with smoking, and prognosis is poor because it is often diagnosed at a late stage. One contributor to late-stage diagnosis could be patient delay in help-seeking. We investigated the help-seeking behaviour of smokers and non-smokers for a recent lung cancer alarm symptom. Methods A health survey was sent to 4913 men and women aged >50 years through through General Practice. It included questions on symptoms experienced in the past 3 months (from a checklist), help-seeking (Yes/ No) for each symptom and demographic characteristics including smoking status. Univariable and multivariable binary logistic regression analyses were used to assess the association between smoking status and helpseeking for a cough or hoarseness. Results Among 2042 participants (42% response rate), 280 (14%) reported 'cough or hoarseness' in the past 3 months; of whom 22% were current smokers. Being a smoker was associated with reduced likelihood of help-seeking (OR 0.44; 95% CI 0.23 to 0.83), even after adjusting for demographic factors (OR 0.46; 95% CI 0.21 to 1.00). Conclusions Delay in help-seeking in smokers for a symptom that is potentially indicative of lung cancer is a cause for concern. Future research could usefully address the psychological mechanisms through which help-seeking in smokers is hindered.