Patient factors influencing symptom appraisal in oesophageal cancer : a qualitative interview

Lewis, Liane and Marcu, Afrodita and Whitaker, Katriina and Maguire, Roma (2018) Patient factors influencing symptom appraisal in oesophageal cancer : a qualitative interview. European Journal of Cancer Care, 27 (1). pp. 1-9. ISSN 0961-5423 (

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Oesophageal cancer (EC) is characterized by vague symptoms and is often diagnosed at an advanced stage, leading to poor outcomes. Therefore, we aimed to investigate whether there might be any patient factors contributing to delay in EC diagnosis, and focused on the symptom appraisal and help-seeking strategies of people diagnosed with EC in the UK. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 14 patients aged >18 years with localised EC at point of diagnosis. Purposive sampling was used to include patients from one to nine months post-diagnosis. Analysis of the interviews identified three main themes: Interpreting symptoms, Triggers to seeking help, and Making sense of an unfamiliar cancer. Findings suggested that participants normalised symptoms or used previous health experiences as a means to interpret their symptoms. The majority of participants were not alarmed by their symptoms, mainly because they had very little knowledge of EC specific symptoms. Lack of knowledge also influenced participants’ sense-making of their diagnosis. The findings highlight that the process of symptom appraisal in EC is likely to be inaccurate, which may hinder early presentation and thus diagnosis. Public health campaigns communicating EC specific symptoms, however, could shorten the appraisal period and lead to earlier diagnosis.