Background The cancer burden falls predominantly on older (≥65 years) adults. Prompt presentation to primary care with cancer symptoms could result in earlier diagnosis. However, patient symptom appraisal and help-seeking decisions involving cancer symptoms are complex and may be further complicated in older adults. Aim To explore the effect of older age on patients' appraisal of possible cancer symptoms and their decision to seek help for these symptoms. Design and setting Mixed-methods systematic review. Method MEDLINE, EMBASE, CINAHL, PsycINFO, Cochrane Library, Web of Science Core Collection, ASSIA, the ISRCTN registry, and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence were searched for studies on symptom appraisal and help-seeking decisions for cancer symptoms by adults aged ≥65 years. Studies were analysed using thematic synthesis and according to the Synthesis Without Meta-Analysis guidelines. Results Eighty studies were included with a total of 32 995 participants. Studies suggested a possible association between increasing age and prolonged symptom appraisal interval. Reduced knowledge of cancer symptoms and differences in symptom interpretation may contribute to this prolonged interval. In contrast, in the current study a possible association was found between increasing age and prompt help-seeking. Themes affecting help-seeking in older adults included the influence of family and carers, competing priorities, fear, embarrassment, fatalism, comorbidities, a desire to avoid doctors, a perceived need to not waste doctors' time, and patient self-management of symptoms. Conclusion This review suggests that increasing age is associated with delayed cancer symptom appraisal. When symptoms are recognised as potentially serious, increasing age was associated with prompt help-seeking although other factors could prolong this. Policymakers, charities, and GPs should aim to ensure older adults are able to recognise potential symptoms of cancer and seek help promptly.
Factors influencing symptom appraisal and helpseeking of older adults with possible cancer: a mixed-methods systematic review / Jones, D.; Di Martino, E.; Bradley, S. H.; Essang, B.; Hemphill, S.; Wright, J. M.; Renzi, C.; Surr, C.; Clegg, A.; Neal, R.. - In: THE BRITISH JOURNAL OF GENERAL PRACTICE. - ISSN 0960-1643. - 72:723(2022), pp. E702-E712. [10.3399/BJGP.2021.0655]