In Australia, non-metropolitan cancer patients have 20-30% higher mortality than those in metropolitan areas and this may be partly due to later presentation and diagnosis. Find Cancer Early is part of the Improving Rural Cancer Outcomes Project: a randomized controlled trial to test interventions aimed at raising community awareness of cancer symptoms and improving GPs’ assessment of symptoms to reduce time to cancer diagnosis.
To develop, deliver and evaluate a community education campaign to (a) increase cancer symptom awareness and (b) reduce delays in help-seeking behavior in people from rural Western Australia.
Formative research was undertaken with breast, bowel, lung and prostate cancer patients from regional WA. Regional community forums and concept testing helped develop and refine campaign messages that appealed to our target audience and addressed the importance of earlier detection through symptom recognition and de-mystifying excuses and barriers around seeking help. The two-year campaign was delivered using a community engagement approach supported by a modest media buy (excluding TV). At 18 months, impact was measured by telephone survey of people aged over 40 in the intervention (n=725) and control regions (n=725).
At 18 months there were: 130,000+ symptom checklists distributed; 230 presentations; 560 partnerships; and unpaid articles in 63 major and 566 minor newspapers (circulation 630,000+). There were significant differences between campaign and control regions in recall (8.8% vs 2.1%; p=0.000) and recognition (8.3% vs 42.2%; p=0.000). Awareness compared favorably against other campaigns with much greater investment of resources.
Regional communities have embraced the Find Cancer Early campaign; the presence of a local Find Cancer Early Campaign Officer was a key strategy in delivery of the messages. The impact of the campaign on time to cancer diagnosis will be reported as part of the Improving Rural Cancer Outcomes Trial.