Email updates

Keep up to date with the latest news and content from BMC Family Practice and BioMed Central.

Open Access Research article

Does smoking status affect the likelihood of consulting a doctor about respiratory symptoms? A pilot survey in Western Australia

Moyez Jiwa1*, Hayley Arnet1, Georgia Halkett1, Marthe Smith1, Moira O'Connor1, Julia Rhodes2, Kate Poland2 and Max Bulsara2

Author Affiliations

1 Western Australian Centre for Cancer and Palliative Care, Curtin University of Technology, Perth, Western Australia, Australia

2 University of Western Australia, Perth, Western Australia, Australia

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Family Practice 2009, 10:16  doi:10.1186/1471-2296-10-16

Published: 17 February 2009

Abstract

Background

Smokers attribute respiratory symptoms, even when severe, to everyday causes and not as indicative of ill-health warranting medical attention. The aim of this pilot study was to conduct a structured vignette survey of people attending general practice to determine when they would advise a person with respiratory symptoms to consult a medical practitioner. Particular reference was made to smoking status and lung cancer.

Methods

Participants were recruited from two general practices in Western Australia. Respondents were invited to complete self-administered questionnaires containing nine vignettes chosen at random from a pool of sixty four vignettes, based on six clinical variables. Twenty eight vignettes described cases with at least 5% risk of cancer. For analysis these were dubbed 'cancer vignettes'. Respondents were asked if they would advise a significant other to consult a doctor with their respiratory symptoms. Logistic regression and non-parametric tests were used to analyse the data.

Results

Three hundred questionnaires were distributed and one hundred and forty completed responses were collected over six weeks. The majority (70.3%) of respondents were female aged forty and older. A history of six weeks' of symptoms, weight loss, cough and breathlessness independently increased the odds of recommending a consultation with a medical practitioner by a factor of 11.8, 2.11, 1.40 and 4.77 respectively. A history of smoking independently increased the odds of the person being thought 'likely' or 'very likely' to have cancer by a factor of 2.46. However only 32% of cancer vignettes with a history of cigarette smoking were recognised as presentations of possible cancer.

Conclusion

Even though a history of cigarette smoking was more likely to lead to the suggestion that a symptomatic person may have cancer we did not confirm that smokers would be more likely to be advised to consult a doctor, even when presenting with common symptoms of lung cancer.