Improving early cancer diagnosis in our underserved communities

Cancer is one of the biggest contributors to inequalities in life expectancy, with people from the most deprived communities more likely to get cancer, be diagnosed at a later stage and die from the disease.  Life expectancy gaps between the most deprived and least deprived quintiles in Shropshire for 2020-21 indicate a life expectancy gap caused by cancer of 9% for males and 18% for females. 

Shropshire, Telford and Wrekin (STW), in partnership with Local Authorities and Community Delivery Partners, Lingen Davies Cancer Fund and Qube Oswestry Community Action, were successful in their bid to be selected as one of 11 sites across the country to become a wave one pilot site to design and implement the NHSE Health Inequalities Core20PLUS Core Connectors programme (STW Cancer Champions).  

The Cancer Champion project aims to increase the uptake of cancer screening invitations through raising awareness in underserved communities, by training volunteer champions from these communities. 

Cancer Champions are people who want to help make a difference by reducing the impact Cancer might have on people’s lives. They do this by: 

  • Reaching into their own communities to talk about cancer symptoms and local services. 
  • Encouraging people to speak up about possible symptoms and take up offers for screening.  
  • Feeding back their experiences, understanding and insights to help generate better local services, for local people. 
  • Having a good understanding of cancer screening, prevention and symptoms. 

To date, the project has engaged with more than 80 local community organisations, leading to over 200 trained Cancer Champions.  Our Champions are people from all walks of life, including  a broad range of healthcare staff, community outreach workers from many different services (e.g. veterans, refugees, hairdressers, drug and alcohol support workers etc), trusted members of our communities, religious leaders and even hairdressers! 

Insights gathered through the project include themes of fear, not understanding the importance of screening, difficulties with language and literacy and communication from health staff. 

  • Fear of Going through screening, being diagnosed, and treated, people express this as a reluctance to engage. Portraying cancer survivorship, and the sharing of positive stories or supportive experiences will improve communication and support easement of fear. 
  • People who don’t understand the importance of screening give it low value, they don’t see it as something they need to do and use delay tactics. There are also unrealistic expectations of what’s medically possible, and those from other cultures or countries may have a negative or confused view of screening e.g. in Ukrainian language, there is not an equivalent term for screening, and in Poland cervical screening starts at a younger age and is annual, undermining Trust in the NHS Cervical screening offer. Communications about the value of screening and stories about lives saved through early diagnosis from screening will help to improve understanding. 
  • People whose first language is not English or do not speak English experience difficulty in making appointments and understanding and interpreting information. Promotion of multilingual resources and translation facilities of healthcare provider websites will help to make information on screening more accessible. 
  • People can feel dismissed or have unrealistic expectations of diagnostics through poor staff communication. By acknowledging people’s fear, checking understanding and providing reassurance, people’s experience can be improved. 

Experiences insight has been fed back at a System, Regional and National level with information shared with different teams responsible for the provision of cancer services to support the development of tools and resources to improve access to cancer screening for those who most need it. The core connectors project and its insights has also been shared more broadly at a regional conference, at Place Partnership Boards, the ICB board and also with system Core 20+ Ambassadors, raising awareness with a range of health professionals and leaders from across the system. 

You can hear more about the insights we’ve gathered so far here: 

Page last updated 26 March 2024