Low awareness of the potential symptoms of cancer is linked to a lower chance of survival, suggests new research published in the British Journal of Cancer.

In the first study of its kind, researchers investigated whether regional variation in cancer survival might be tied to regional variation in cancer symptom awareness and GP access.

They found that, on average, each additional cancer symptom recognised was associated with about a 1.6 percent increase in one year overall cancer survival for patients in that region.

Only breast cancer survival was associated with perceived barriers to seeing the doctor, including embarrassment and difficulties getting transport to the doctor's surgery.

East London was found to have the lowest awareness of cancer symptoms and highest average number of barriers to seeking medical help among the region's residents, while the highest level of awareness was found in areas such as Peterborough, Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire.

"A range of things can influence cancer survival. Stage of disease at diagnosis is one of them, and if we can ensure more people know what to look out for and see their GP if they notice any unusual or persistent changes, we may be able to reduce the numbers of patients who are diagnosed with advanced disease, where curative treatment is not often an option," said Dr Maja Niksic, lead author at the the London School of Hygiene & Hygiene Tropical Medicine.

"Based on our research we think that health campaigns should focus on helping people to recognise cancer symptoms early and seek medical advice about these - especially in socio-economically deprived areas, where cancer survival is generally lower."

Also commenting on the research, Jessica Kirby, senior health information manager at Cancer Research UK, noted that as many things influence cancer survival "there could be other explanations for the variation in survival across the UK", such as smoking and health service infrastructure.

"The NHS should ensure that everyone can have the right information and access to services to give them the best chance of being diagnosed and treated promptly, wherever they live," she stressed.