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New research from Mumsnet shows how embarrassment and fear of being dismissed prevent women seeking help over symptoms of bowel cancer

Figures show how embarrassment and fear of being dismissed by their GP are preventing women from seeking medical help.

By Mumsnet HQ | Last updated Apr 4, 2023

In a survey of more than 500 women, Mumsnet found that:

  • 72% have been worried or are currently worried that their poo isn’t ‘normal’ for them (the number one symptom of bowel cancer listed on the NHS website).
  • But only 41% of those who are or have been worried have seen their GP about it.
  • Of those women who are currently worried, fewer than half (45%) have approached their GP.

The research, released as Bowel Cancer Awareness Month begins, found that the main barriers to women seeking help were embarrassment, fear of being dismissed, or difficulty getting an appointment:

  • 39% said they didn’t seek help because they feared either that they wouldn’t be able to get a GP appointment or that if they did, they wouldn’t be taken seriously by their GP.
  • More than a third (36%) of women said that embarrassment was the main reason they didn’t seek help from a doctor. 

The research also showed that less than half (44%) of women over 50 have used a home testing kit.  Everyone aged 60 to 74 years who is registered with a GP and lives in England is automatically sent an NHS bowel cancer screening kit every 2 years, and the NHS is currently expanding the programme to include 50 to 59 year olds.

 Justine Roberts, Founder and CEO of Mumsnet said:

 “We know from Mumsnet users that decades of entrenched inequality in healthcare mean women are often reluctant to seek help when they need it.  But to see the problem so starkly illustrated in the context of bowel cancer - a disease where early diagnosis makes a huge difference - is still shocking.  

“The Women’s Health Strategy published last year recognised how women feel they are not listened to by healthcare professionals and this is borne out by our research in which a toxic combination of embarrassment and fear of being dismissed is risking women’s health. It's clear that there is a long way to go before women start to get the healthcare they need.”