“I didn’t want to go to the GP because I didn’t want to bother anyone”

As a new report reveals people of colour receive cancer diagnoses seven months later than white peers, Hana Rajabally talks to a North London patient about her experience

People of colour receive a cancer diagnosis seven months after their white peers on average, a study by a biopharmaceutical company has found.

Bristol Meyers Squibb (BMS), a global company which researches, develops and delivers innovative medicines to help patients overcome serious diseases, and cancer charity Shine Cancer Support commissioned the polling company YouGov to survey 1,002 people diagnosed with cancer in the UK on their experience.

The outcome of the survey, a report called 1,000 voices, not 1, shows that people from minority ethnic backgrounds face an average of a year’s delay between first noticing symptoms and receiving a diagnosis of cancer, double the average of white individuals (11.9 months vs 4.9 months), thereby highlighting the inequality in cancer diagnosis across the UK. 

The report is part of a new campaign by BMS which aims to understand and address the many possible reasons for inequalities in experiences of cancer in Britain, which could include low awareness of cancer and its associated symptoms, and challenges accessing services.

Precious, 45, a British woman of Nigerian heritage living in North London, was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML) in June 2012 at the age of 33, six months after first experiencing symptoms in December 2011.

Precious said: “I didn’t initially want to go to the GP because I didn’t want to bother anyone. I didn’t know about the symptoms of cancer either, so I just sat on it for a long time.”

None of Precious’s friends or family could connect the dots, as they were also unaware of cancer symptoms, since cancer was never spoken about within her family and it was considered ‘shameful’ in her culture.

When Precious did finally go to the GP, she says her doctor was dismissive and told her that it was just stress.

“I felt I need to defer to his authority”

Walking outside the GP surgery, Precious burst into tears because she knew something was wrong with her but she wasn’t being taken seriously.

Reflecting on how she was treated by the GP, Precious remarked: “I felt I needed to defer to his authority as a medical professional.”

But in confirmation of her gut feeling, Precious passed out in a tube station only one week after her visit to the GP.

Precious was then brought to A&E where she received her cancer diagnosis of chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML), after which she didn’t leave hospital for six months. 

Precious told Barnet Post about some negative experiences she had whilst receiving treatment for CML in 2012.

One night at the hospital, Precious needed a scan because she had really bad stomach pains. The nurse who did the scan was a Nigerian woman, and Precious said she was happy to be attended to by a member of her community.

However, as the nurse was doing the scan, she asked Precious whether she had been to Nigeria recently. Precious replied that she’d visited earlier that year, in February, but was shocked to hear the nurse’s response.

“Did you steal someone’s husband?”

“She asked me: ‘Did you steal someone’s husband or someone’s money back home? That might be why you have cancer.’

“Hearing that was very distressing, especially from someone who works in a hospital,” Precious said.

On another occasion, a different nurse brought Precious a piece of paper with the death rates of cancer printed on it, and told her to tell her family that she was dying and that she didn’t have long left in this world.

Although she never complained about the first incident, Precious did file a complaint against the nurse in the latter incident as it caused her so much distress, even though she didn’t originally want to make a complaint.

Precious explained that there’s a big culture of shame in many minority ethnic cultures, which means that those suffering with cancer are often made to feel responsible for having their illness, or that they are being punished in some way for something they’ve done. This is due to a lack of education around how cancer develops in the body.

Precious experienced this culture of shame within her own circle of friends and family as well as in the hospital, and at first she didn’t want to tell close ones about her diagnosis due to the stigma associated with cancer within her culture. 

“Let’s not bang on about it”

Once she was successfully treated and declared cancer-free, Precious found that friends and family didn’t want to talk about her experience of having had cancer, with someone very close to her telling her: “It’s over now, let’s not bang on about it.”

Having loved ones dismiss her experience of cancer was very painful for Precious, as she remarked to Barnet Post: “I struggled with depression for a very long time. Originally I wanted to hide away.”

However, twelve years on from first being diagnosed in A&E, Precious is now a passionate advocate for those living with cancer within the Black and Asian population. 

Over the past five years she has been working with a number of major cancer charities in helping to empower cancer patients and encourage them to get the help they need, especially for those from cultures that are often silent about cancer.

“What’s driven me is bringing awareness”

Precious said: “What’s driven me is bringing awareness. When I looked through the booklets on cancer in the hospital, everyone was white. It makes people think, oh so black people aren’t affected by it. The materials around cancer aren’t reflecting other communities, and they don’t know if doctors can provide the help they need.”

Precious encourages others to speak out about their own experiences, in order to help ‘demystify’ cancer and get rid of the shame associated with it in many ethnic minority cultures.

The 1,000 voices, not 1 report found a number of factors that may contribute to the significant discrepancy in diagnosis rate between white and POC cancer patients, including the fact that people from minority ethnic groups were more likely to attribute their symptoms to other conditions compared to white individuals (51% vs 31%).

Another factor related to concerns surrounding work and finances, with a higher proportion of people from ethnic minority groups having difficulty seeing a GP compared to white individuals both in terms of getting an appointment – including due to long wait times and few slots being available – (25% vs 16%) and in being able to make time for it due to work (18% vs 4%). The report found that 35% of those interviewed from a minority ethnic background worried about being able to pay utility bills following their cancer diagnosis, whilst only 20% of their white peers had the same concerns.

Similarly, 36% of those interviewed from a minority ethnic background worried about the need to dip into savings, whilst this only featured as a concern for 16% of white cancer patients interviewed. Whilst a quarter of minority ethnic background respondents had concerns about having to stop work after being diagnosed with cancer, only 10% of white respondents had the same worry.

Precious’s personal experience of cancer reflects a similar story. Unable to work for a long time due to having cancer and receiving treatment, Precious had to sign onto benefits and at one point went into debt. 

The report also found that patients with a weaker understanding of cancer prior to diagnosis  were much more likely to need two or three appointments before referral, compared to those with a good understanding of cancer before diagnosis, meaning that a lack of education around cancer also contributed to delays in diagnosis rates.

Although these factors are all potential reasons as to why cancer diagnoses for ethnic minority populations is so delayed compared to white cancer patients, what is clear is that the longer it takes to get a cancer diagnosis, the more difficult it is to treat and the higher the risk of death.

Global data suggests that every month delayed between cancer diagnosis and treatment

may raise the risk of death by around 10%, meaning that lengthy delays in cancer diagnoses can have a detrimental impact on the livelihood of ethnic minority populations living with cancer.

So although it’s been twelve years since Precious was diagnosed with CML, the 1000 voices, not 1 report sadly shows that inequalities in cancer diagnosis between different ethnic groups in Britain is a huge problem.

“There’s no need to feel shame”

Precious said: “What’s making me sad is that we’re having this conversation in 2024.”

Speaking about the reasons for launching the report and campaign, Dr Robert Braun, Head of Haematology-Oncology Disease at Bristol Meyers Squibb UK & Ireland told Barnet Post: “The first step in the Cancer Equals campaign is to raise awareness of the issue of inequalities in cancer diagnosis between ethnic minority and white cancer patients in the UK.”

“The report shows that there is a seven month delay in people of colour receiving cancer diagnoses compared to their white peers, which is shocking.”

“As a leading player in cancer care, we see it as our corporate responsibility to address these issues. We recommend for everyone to read the report and get involved with the campaign.”

Precious urges anyone who feels unwell to make sure they see a doctor.

She said: “If you don’t feel well, you know your body more than anyone. There’s no need to feel shame. You’re not being a bother on the NHS if you’re poorly.”

Even though Precious went through many negative experiences during her cancer treatment, the isolation she felt encouraged her to join different charity groups to meet other people living with cancer, in order to bond over the shared experience. 

Precious told Barnet Post: “One of the best things that has happened to me after all of this is belonging to a lifelong community, and making great friends who understand the experience.”

If you’d like to find out more about the Cancer Equals campaign, visit

No news is bad news 

Independent news outlets like ours – reporting for the community without rich backers – are under threat of closure, turning British towns into news deserts. 

The audiences they serve know less, understand less, and can do less. 

If our coverage has helped you understand our community a little bit better, please consider supporting us with a monthly, yearly or one-off donation. 

Choose the news. Don’t lose the news.

Monthly direct debit 

Annual direct debit

£5 per month supporters get a digital copy of each month’s paper before anyone else, £10 per month supporters get a digital copy of each month’s paper before anyone else and a print copy posted to them each month. £50 annual supporters get a digital copy of each month's paper before anyone else. £84 annual supporters get a print copy by post and a digital copy of each month's before anyone else.

Donate now with Pay Pal

More information on supporting us monthly 

More Information about donations