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Understanding symptom appraisal and help-seeking in people with symptoms suggestive of pancreatic cancer: a qualitative study

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Mills, Katie, Birt, Linda, Emery, John, Hall, Nicola, Banks, Jonathan, Johnson, Margaret, Lancaster, John, Hamilton, William, Rubin, Greg and Walter, Fiona (2017) Understanding symptom appraisal and help-seeking in people with symptoms suggestive of pancreatic cancer: a qualitative study. BMJ Open, 7. ISSN 2044-6055

Item Type: Article


Pancreatic cancer has poor survival rates due to non-specific symptoms leading to later diagnosis. Understanding how patients interpret their symptoms could inform approaches to earlier diagnosis. This study sought to explore symptom appraisal and help-seeking among patients referred to secondary care for symptoms suggestive of
pancreatic cancer.
Qualitative analysis of semi-structured in-depth interviews. Data were analysed iteratively and thematically, informed by the Model of Pathways to Treatment.
Participants and setting
Pancreatic cancer occurs rarely in younger adults, therefore patients aged ≥ 40 years were recruited from nine hospitals after being referred to hospital with symptoms
suggestive of pancreatic cancer; all were participants in a cohort study. Interviews were conducted soon after referral, and where possible, before diagnosis.
Twenty-six interviews were conducted (cancer n=13 (pancreas n=9, other intraabdominal n=4), non-cancer conditions n=13; age range 48-84 years; 14 women). Time from first symptoms to first presentation to healthcare ranged from 1 to 270
days, median 21 days. We identified three main themes. Initial symptom appraisal usually began with intermittent, non-specific symptoms such as tiredness or appetite
changes, attributed to diet and lifestyle, existing gastrointestinal conditions or sideeffects
of medication. Responses to initial symptom appraisal included changes in meal type or frequency, or self-medication. Symptom changes such as alterations in
appetite and enjoyment of food or weight loss usually prompted further appraisal. Triggers to seek help included a change or worsening of symptoms, particularly pain,
which was often a ‘tipping point’. Help-seeking was often encouraged by others. We found no differences in symptom appraisal and help seeking between people diagnosed with cancer and those with other conditions.
Greater public and healthcare professional awareness of the combinations of subtle and intermittent symptoms, and their evolving nature, is needed to prompt timelier help-seeking and investigation among people with symptoms of pancreatic cancer.

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Depositing User: Nicola Hall


Item ID: 8517
Identification Number:
ISSN: 2044-6055

Users with ORCIDS

ORCID for Nicola Hall: ORCID iD

Catalogue record

Date Deposited: 18 Dec 2017 12:05
Last Modified: 18 Dec 2019 16:05


Author: Nicola Hall ORCID iD
Author: Katie Mills
Author: Linda Birt
Author: John Emery
Author: Jonathan Banks
Author: Margaret Johnson
Author: John Lancaster
Author: William Hamilton
Author: Greg Rubin
Author: Fiona Walter

University Divisions

Faculty of Health Sciences and Wellbeing
Faculty of Health Sciences and Wellbeing > School of Nursing and Health Sciences


Sciences > Biomedical Sciences

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