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Oct 2017 - Sep 2021

Lay referral in the early diagnosis of cancer


Emma Campbell



Funding Amount



Professor Val Morrison

Cancer Type


Funding Type




Research Type

Early Detection, Diagnosis and Prognosis

This PhD was part funded through the Knowledge and Economy Skills Scholarship 2 Programme which you can find out more about here


The time frame in which people recognise a bodily change as a potentially cancerous illness symptom and seek professional healthcare advice is an important area of research. This is especially the case when considering the earlier diagnosis of cancer. Previous research has examined differing social, psychological, and psychosocial factors although little is known about these factors in specific reference to bodily changes. Therefore, this research aimed to investigate time frame between symptom recognition and professional healthcare help-seeking behaviour.


The overall results of this research found that many different factors shape the process between symptom recognition and attendance at primary care. For example, disruption, previous existing health conditions, cognitive self-evaluation, emotions, relationship-anxiety and lay referral were found to influence the recognition of bodily changes as illness symptoms. In terms of lay referral more specifically the role of peoples’ life span relationships, relational experiences, emotions, cognitive perceptions of themselves/ others, attachment, social context (i.e. the COVID-19 pandemic), and gender were found to be important. The significant role of previous relational experiences, cognition, and emotion was also discovered in connection to help-seeking behaviour in the context of professional healthcare advice when considering the time frame.


This exploratory research has given significant insight to the role of people’s life span close and wider relationships when considering illness behaviour and the earlier diagnosis of cancer. The findings are thought to provide an evidence-based foundation for several further recommendations.

Next Steps:

The results of this studentship could be drawn upon by other researchers to inform further exploration of the topic. The findings could also be used to shape healthcare professional education and cancer related policy in the future.

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