Are we ready for bums on the breakfast table?

4:51 pm - January 30th 2013

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by Giselle Green

On this morning’s Today Programme menu was a discussion about cancer survival rates in Britain being worse than in comparable high income countries with similar health care systems. Research published in the British Journal of Cancer shows that we put off getting symptoms investigated because we don’t want to trouble our doctors as we’re worried about wasting their time or because we’re embarrassed about sharing our symptoms.

Interestingly the fear of a cancer diagnosis wasn’t a factor differentiating us from our international counterparts.

So why are we worrying about “wasting” our doctor’s time or embarrassing ourselves, especially when survival rates are hugely enhanced by early diagnosis? As Mark Flanagan of Beating Bowel Cancer told us, bowel cancel has a 93% survival rate if caught early enough.

Further research is being embarked upon but Dr Lindsay Forbes, the lead researcher in the report by London’s Kings’ College and University College, speculated that this delay in getting a diagnosis is due to the “British stiff upper lip”, that classic mix of stoicism and avoidance of discussing something embarrassing. (Another theory that the public is worried about draining NHS resources seems a little far-fetched to me. “Oh, I’m not going to get this lump checked out as I don’t want to use up my GP’s budget allocation” isn’t a phrase that I can imagine tripping off most people’s tongues.)

In a clear effort to desensitize the Today programme audience, Mark Flanagan of Beating Bowel Cancer seemed to relish talking about poo, bowels and bums. He even came up with the ultimate sound bite (don’t think too closely about that analogy): “We need to break the taboo; we need to talk more about bowels and bottoms, about blood and about poo. We need to get the message out that it’s ok to talk. “

Here, I thought, was the perfect clip for the BBC Radio 8 o’clock news to run. What a chance to break the taboo and get the message out to millions. But sadly not. A less arresting sound bite was chosen.

It seems poos and bums are fine for an interview, but not the news. We clearly still have some way to go in softening up that stiff British upper lip.

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Reader comments

People are probably concerned they will be branded scroungers and moochers if they use a public service. Such is the hostility from our elite overlords here in The banana republic of Tory England.

Only tories can scrounge off the state without criticsm.

Sally @ 1 is just going through the motions…

3. Churm Rincewind

The reason that UK cancer survival rates in the UK are so poor is that the medical profession (and by implication the NHS) has been involved in a long term turf war about who gets to be in charge.

Cancer of the throat? See a throat specialist. Cancer of the bowel? See a bowel specialist.

In the US, on the other hand and by way of example, if you have cancer you see a cancer specialist. This approach works, and there’s no argument about that.

It’s true that things are getting better in the UK, but only because the evidence is incontrovertible. In this context it’s sad to see that the UK medical establishment is once again trying to blame the patients.

4. domestic extremist

I think you meant bums AT the breakfast table. (At least I hope that’s what you meant.)

3 Well, you see a specialist if you can afford too. Otherwise you die. And even if you can afford to you are going to need plenty of money to pay for the after care drugs. Good luck if you can’t afford it,

@3 where did you get such ideas? You really need evidence to back up such assertions.

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