A new survey funded by Cancer Research U.K. has found that many people disregard potential warning signs of cancer. It was published in the journal PLOS One.

Mostly driven by fear, people put their lives at risk by ignoring cancer symptoms.

The study involved 1,700 people in the United Kingdom. The participants completed a health questionnaire that listed 17 symptoms, which included 10 commonly known potential cancer symptoms. The symptoms included persistent coughing or pain, significant changes in bowel or bladder habits, sores that don’t heal, and unexplained weight loss.

The findings showed that more than half (53 percent) of the participants said that they had experienced at least one red-flag cancer ‘alarm’ symptom in the previous three months, but only 2 percent thought that cancer could be a potential cause of those symptoms. In most cases, people attributed potential cancer symptoms to factors like age, infection, arthritis, piles and cysts.

Lead author Dr. Katriina Whitaker, senior research fellow at University College London, said, “Most people with potential warning symptoms don’t have cancer, but some will and others may have other diseases that would benefit from early attention.”

“That’s why it’s important that these symptoms are checked out, especially if they don’t go away. But people could delay seeing a doctor if they don’t acknowledge cancer as a possible cause,” Whitaker added.

“Most cancers are picked up through people going to their doctors about symptoms. This study indicates that opportunities for early diagnosis are being missed,” said Sara Hiom, director of early diagnosis at Cancer Research UK.

The researchers found that the more obvious signs of cancer like unexplained lumps and moles are dismissed too, although they are often well recognised in surveys that assess the public’s knowledge of the disease.