Skip to main content

COVID Health and help seeking behaviour study

COVID Health and help seeking behaviour study is a large-scale study to measure cancer attitudes and behaviours in adults aged 18+ across the UK.

This research is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) as part of the UK Research and Innovation’s rapid response to COVID-19.


During the COVID-19 pandemic, people may not be aware of the importance of seeking early medical help for signs of cancer or taking up screening, when available, to diagnose cancer sooner. In addition, some people may not want to be referred to a hospital for diagnostic tests due to fear of catching coronavirus in the healthcare setting. COVID-19 may also affect whether people take part in healthy behaviours that can reduce the chances of getting cancer. These factors may lead to more cancers occurring, and more cancers being diagnosed at a late stage when treatment may be less successful.

COVID Health and help seeking behaviour study

Over 18 months, we will carry out a large study to measure cancer attitudes and behaviours in adults aged 18+ across the UK. We aim to include adults from a range of different backgrounds including people from a Black, Asian or minority ethnic background and those who live in disadvantaged communities as data suggests that they may have been more effected by coronavirus than other groups.

Study design

Working closely with Cancer Research UK, we will carry out an online survey with at least 3,500 people to ask about any recent symptoms, cancer screening and health behaviours during the UK lockdown period. Survey questions will include the delay in visiting the GP with a range of possible cancer symptoms, attitudes to cancer screening and anxiety about seeking help in the current situation. Other barriers to seeking help will be explored together with health behaviours including smoking, alcohol, diet and physical activity.  People will also be asked how they would prefer to receive public health information.

We will also interview by telephone around 30 people who have taken part in the survey to understand their attitudes and behaviours in more detail. The survey and interviews will be repeated with the same people around six months later, to assess any changes in their views and information preferences.

Finally, we will link the survey data with medical records available in Wales to assess the number of GP referrals and tests for suspected cancer symptoms, whether people have taken part in cancer screening, whether people who smoke have quit, and the number and stage of new cancers diagnosed.

Public health messages

Our study findings will be used to rapidly develop clear public health messages encouraging people to act on the early signs of cancer, take up cancer screening when it becomes available, and engage in healthy behaviours. We think this will help to reduce the negative impact of COVID-19 on cancer outcomes in the longer term.