The majority of patients presenting with oesophageal cancer have symptoms for more than three months and advanced disease at presentation. Most appear unaware of the significance of dysphagia as a symptom. Cancer awareness programmes focus on symptoms such as lumps and bleeding. To sample the level of public awareness of the potentially sinister significance of the symptom of dysphagia. A community survey was conducted using a questionnaire to evaluate the subjects' impression of the significance of dysphagia, and compare it with their perception of the significance of breast lump. Patients were stratified to male and female, under and over 45 years. There were 164 subjects interviewed. Seventy-five per cent stated that they would visit their doctor within one week of developing dysphagia compared with 87 per cent questioned about a breast lump (96 per cent females, 80 per cent males). Only 17 per cent felt that cancer was a probable explanation for dysphagia compared with 80 per cent who would consider cancer a likely cause of breast lump. There is evident need of an awareness programme of the potential significance of dysphagia if prognosis for oesophageal cancer is to be improved.
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