Greater public awareness of colorectal cancer symptoms might result in earlier presentation with improved cure by available treatments, but little is known about the extent of public knowledge of colorectal cancer symptoms. We asked a sample of the general population about knowledge of colorectal cancer symptoms and assessed demographic characteristics associated with differences in knowledge. A population-based telephone enquiry into knowledge of colorectal cancer-associated symptoms was conducted by a commercial telephone market-research company. Persons called were asked if they knew any symptom of colorectal cancer. Those who answered 'yes' were asked to state any symptom. The ability to state a colorectal cancer-associated symptom was correlated with demographic characteristics, and the strength of the relation between stating a colorectal cancer associated and unassociated symptom (discrimination) was also assessed. 1019 persons (respondents) from an age, sex, and social class-balanced general population sample were questioned. 328 (31%) of respondents stated a colorectal cancer-associated symptom. Regression analysis identified older age, female sex and higher social class as being significantly associated with ability to state a colorectal cancer-associated symptom. There was a weak trend (P = 0.054) towards a relationship between ability to state an associated symptom and stating fewer unassociated symptoms. These results reveal a total ignorance of colorectal cancer symptoms in the majority of respondents and suggest a need for improved public education about colorectal cancer. Public education should be directed at population groups with higher risk and the least knowledge of colorectal cancer
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