Katriina Whitaker is Lead for Cancer Care in the School of Health Sciences at the University of Surrey. Katriina was awarded a prestigious Cancer Research UK postdoctoral research fellowship (2012-2015) to explore cancer symptom appraisal in everyday life. Her ongoing programme of work focuses on early diagnosis and cancer, with a particular interest in healthcare-seeking and health inequalities.
Katriina is a Chartered Psychologist and was made a Fellow of the British Psychological Society in 2017. Katriina chairs the Early Diagnosis sub-group of the NCRI’s Primary Care Clinical Studies Group (CSG) and is an expert panel member for Cancer Research UK's Early Diagnosis Review Panel and Tenovus Cancer Care Psychosocial Advisory Committee. She also sits on Editorial Boards for the European Journal of Cancer Care and Psycho-Oncology.
- Early diagnosis and cancer
- Cancer knowledge, attitudes and beliefs
- Symptom perception
- Health psychology
- Health inequalities
Katie Robb (University of Glasgow)
Jo Waller (University College London)
Georgia Black (University College London)
Peter Vedsted (Aarhus University, Denmark)
Yoryos Lyratzopoulos (University College London, University of Cambridge)
Una Macleod (Hull York Medical School)
Fiona Walter (University of Cambridge)
Indicators of esteem
February 2017- current. Fellow of the British Psychological Society (BPS)
May 2016-current. Member of the Psycho-Oncology Journal Affiliate Editorial Board
February 2016-current. Member of the National Cancer Research Institute (NCRI) Primary Care Clinical Study Group (CSG).
August 2015-current: Member of the National Cancer Research Institute (NCRI) Primary Care Early Diagnosis sub-group.
April 2015-current: Expert Panel Member, Early Diagnosis Panel of Population Research Committee, Cancer Research UK.
April 2015-current: Committee member of IPOS Communications and Publications Committee.
March 2015-current: Editorial Board Member, European Journal of Cancer Care.
November 2014-current: Honorary Senior Research Fellow, Epidemiology and Public Health, University College London.
November 2013-current: Scholar, Editorial Board, British Journal of Health Psychology
Jan 2012-current: Chartered member (CPsychol) of British Psychological Society (BPS).
PhD, MSc and BSc student supervision
Module lead for Cancer in Society
von Wagner, C., Good, A., Whitaker, K.L., Wardle, J. (2011). Psychosocial determinants of socioeconomic inequalities in cancer screening participation: A conceptual framework. Epidemiologic Reviews, 33, 135-147.
Whitaker, K.L., Scott, S., Winstanley, K., Macleod, U., Wardle, J. (2014). Attributions of cancer ‘alarm’ symptoms in a community sample. PLOS One, 9 (12):e114028, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0114028
Whitaker, K.L., Macleod, U., Winstanley, K., Scott, S., Wardle, J. (2015). Help-seeking for cancer ‘alarm’ symptoms: a qualitative interview study. British Journal of General Practice, 65(631); e96-e105.
Whitaker, K.L., Scott, S., Wardle, J. (2015) Applying symptom appraisal models to understand socio-demographic differences in responses to possible cancer symptoms: A research agenda. British Journal of Cancer, 112, Suppl 1: S27-S34, doi: 10.1038/bjc.2015.39.
Whitaker, K.L., Friedemann Smith, C., Winstanley K., Wardle, J. (2016). What prompts help-seeking for cancer ‘alarm’ symptoms? A primary care based survey. British Journal of Cancer, 114, 334-339, doi: 10.1038/bjc.2015.445
Davies, H., Marcu, A., Vedsted, P., Whitaker, K.L (2018). Is lower symptom recognition associated with socioeconomic inequalities in help-seeking for potential breast cancer symptoms? Psycho-Oncology, 27 (2), 626-632.
Lower socioeconomic status (SES) is associated with a higher risk of late-stage cancer diagnosis. A number of explanations have been advanced for this, but one which has attracted recent attention is lower patient knowledge of cancer warning signs, leading to delay in help-seeking. However, although there is psychometric evidence of SES differences in knowledge of cancer symptoms, no studies have examined differences in ?cancer suspicion? among people who are actually experiencing a classic warning sign.
A ?health survey? was mailed to 9771 adults (~50 years, no cancer diagnosis) with a symptom list including 10 cancer ?warning signs?. Respondents were asked if they had experienced any of the symptoms in the past 3 months, and if so, were asked ?what do you think caused it?? Any mention of cancer was scored as ?cancer suspicion?. SES was indexed by education.
Nearly half the respondents (1732/3756) had experienced a ?warning sign?, but only 63/1732 (3.6%) mentioned cancer as a possible cause. Lower education was associated with lower likelihood of cancer suspicion: 2.6% of respondents with school-only education versus 7.3% with university education suspected cancer as a possible cause. In multivariable analysis, low education was the only demographic variable independently associated with lower cancer suspicion (odds ratio (OR) = 0.34, confidence interval (CI): 0.20?0.59).
Levels of cancer suspicion were low overall in this community sample, and even lower in people from less educated backgrounds. This may hinder early symptomatic presentation and contribute to inequalities in stage at diagnosis.
1724). Over half the respondents (915/1724; 53%) had experienced an 'alarm' symptom, and 20 (2%) cited cancer as a possible cause. Cancer attributions were highest for 'unexplained lump'; 7% (6/87). Cancer attributions were lowest for 'unexplained weight loss' (0/47). A higher proportion (375/1638; 23%) were concerned their symptom might be 'serious', ranging from 12% (13/112) for change in a mole to 41% (100/247) for unexplained pain. Just over half had contacted their doctor about their symptom (59%), although this varied by symptom. Alarm symptoms were appraised as more serious than non-alarm symptoms, and were more likely to trigger help-seeking. CONCLUSIONS: Consistent with retrospective reports from cancer patients, 'alarm' symptoms experienced in daily life were rarely attributed to cancer. These results have implications for understanding how people appraise and act on symptoms that could be early warning signs of cancer.
We examined associations between different chronic morbidities and help-seeking for possible cancer symptoms.
Postal survey of individuals aged>50 years in England. Participants could report prior morbidities in respect of 12 pre-defined conditions. Among patients experiencing possible cancer symptoms we examined associations between specific morbidities and self-reported help-seeking (i.e. contacted versus not contacted a GP) for each alarm symptom using regression analyses.
Among 2042 respondents (42% response rate), 936 (46%) recently experienced one of 14 possible cancer symptoms considered in our analysis. Of them, 80% reported one or more morbidities, most frequently hypertension/hypercholesterolemia (40%), osteomuscular (36%) and heart diseases (21%). After adjustment for socio-demographic characteristics, patients with hypertension/hypercholesterolemia were more likely to report help-seeking for possible cancer symptoms, such as unexplained cough (OR=2.0; 95%CI 1.1-3.5), pain (OR=2.2; 95%CI 1.0-4.5) and abdominal bloating (OR=2.3; 95%CI 1.1-4.8). Urinary morbidity was associated with increased help-seeking for abdominal bloating (OR=5.4; 95%CI 1.2-23.7) or rectal bleeding (OR=5.8; 95%CI 1.4-23.8). In contrast, heart problems reduced help-seeking for change in bowel habits (OR=0.4; 95%CI 0.2-1.0).
Comorbidities are common and may facilitate help-seeking for possible cancer symptoms, but associations vary for specific symptom-comorbidity pairs. The findings can contribute to the design of future cancer symptom awareness campaigns.
Background: Presenting to primary care with potential cancer symptoms is contingent on one?s ability to recognize potentially serious symptoms. We investigated differences between smokers and non-smokers in symptoms experienced, awareness and consulting of potential respiratory, head and neck cancer symptoms.
Methods: Smokers and non-smokers aged over 50 from Yorkshire general practice lists were sent a postal questionnaire asking about symptoms, consulting and awareness of cancer symptoms. Data were analysed using STATA14.
Results: Response rate after one reminder was 30.5% (1205/3954). Smoking status was associated with experience of cough (p
Conclusion: Our findings suggest that current smokers are more likely to experience cough, breathlessness and tiredness, but are less likely to consult for cough than never-smokers. To increase cancer awareness and promote consulting among smokers, innovative interventions improving symptom recognition and empowering smokers to seek help are required.
Socioeconomic inequalities in recognising signs and symptoms of cancer may result in inequalities in timely help-seeking and subsequent prognosis of breast cancer. We explored the mediating role of symptom attribution and concern on the relationship between level of education and help-seeking for potential breast cancer symptoms.
Women aged e47 years (n=961) were purposively recruited (by education) to complete an online vignette-based survey that included nipple rash and axillary lump (in separate vignettes) as potential symptoms of breast cancer. Women completed questions relating to medical help-seeking (Yes/No), cancer attribution, symptom concern, cancer avoidance, family history and demographics.
Women with low education and mid-education attributed nipple rash less often to cancer (26% and 27% mentioned cancer) than women with a degree or higher (40%). However, women with a degree or higher (63%) or mid-education (64%) were less likely to anticipate seeking help for the nipple rash than women with no formal qualifications (73%). This association was statistically significant in the 60-69 year old age group. There was no significant association between education and help-seeking for axillary lump. Mediation analysis adjusting for potential confounders confirmed that the association between education and help-seeking for nipple rash was fully mediated by symptom concern.
Socioeconomic inequalities in stage at diagnosis and survival of breast cancer may not always be explained by lower likelihood of suspecting cancer and subsequent impact on help-seeking. Reducing inequalities in stage at diagnosis will involve understanding a broader range of bio-psycho-social factors (e.g. comorbidities, healthcare system factors).
?Candidacy? is concerned with the way people consider their eligibility for accessing health services. We used the Candidacy Framework to explore how the doctor-patient relationship can influence perceived eligibility to visit their General Practitioner (GP) among people experiencing cancer alarm symptoms.
We carried out a secondary analysis of qualitative interviews with 29 women and 33 men, aged e50 years experiencing cancer alarm symptoms, recruited through primary care. Interviews focused on symptom experience, help-seeking and primary care use. Framework analysis was used to analyse transcripts with a focus on GP-patient interactions.
Perceived (im)permeability of services acted as a barrier to help-seeking, due to limited availability of appointments, time-limited communication and difficulties asserting candidacy. There was also a focal role of communication in building a positive doctor-patient relationship, with some participants describing resisting offers of appointments as a result of previous negative GP adjudication. These factors not only influenced the current consultation but had longer-term consequences for future consultation.
Candidacy provides a valuable theoretical framework to understand the interactional factors of the doctor-patient relationship which influence perceived eligibility to seek help for possible cancer alarm symptoms. We have highlighted areas for targeted interventions to improve patient-centred care and improve earlier diagnosis.
People engage in health information-seeking online when experiencing unusual or unfamiliar bodily changes. It is not well understood how people consult the Internet for health information after the onset of unfamiliar symptoms and before receiving a potential diagnosis, and how online information-seeking can help people appraise their symptoms. This lack of evidence may be partly due to methodological limitations in capturing in real time the online information-seeking process.
We explored women?s symptom attribution and online health information-seeking in response to a hypothetical and unfamiliar breast change suggestive of cancer (nipple rash). We also aimed to establish the feasibility of capturing in real time the online information-seeking process with a tool designed to track participants? online searches and visited websites, the VIZZATATM browser tracker.
An online survey was completed by 56 cancer-free women (Mage = 60.34 years, SD = 7.73 years) responding to a scenario asking them to imagine noticing a red scaly rash on the nipple. Participants were asked to make symptom attributions when presented with the scenario (Time1) and again after seeking information online (Time2). The online tracking tool, embedded in the survey, was used to capture in real time participants? search terms and accessed websites.
The tracking tool captured the search terms and accessed websites of most of the participants (46/56, 82%). For the rest (n=10, 18%), there was evidence of engagement in online information-seeking, e.g. medical terminology and cancer attribution at Time2, despite their searching activity not being recorded. Twenty five participants considered cancer as a potential cause for the nipple rash at Time1, yet only one of these used ?cancer? as a search term. Most participants (n=40, 87%) used rash-related search terms, particularly ?nipple rash? and ?rash on nipple?. The majority (41/46, 89%) accessed websites containing breast cancer information, with the NHS webpage ?Paget?s disease of the nipple? being the most visited one. At Time2, after engaging in the Internet search task, more participants attributed the nipple rash to breast cancer than at Time1, n=37 (66.1%) vs. n=25 (44.6%), although a small number of participants (n=6) changed from making a cancer attribution at Time1 to a non-cancer one at Time2.
Making a cancer attribution for an unfamiliar breast change did not necessarily translate into cancer-termed searches. Equally, not all Internet searches led to a cancer attribution. The findings suggest that online information-seeking may not necessarily help women who experience unfamiliar breast cancer symptoms understand their condition. Despite some technical issues, this study showed that it is feasible to use an online browser tracking tool to capture in real time information-seeking about unfamiliar symptoms.
The incidence of lung cancer is four?times higher in people with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) compared to the general population. Promotion of a shorter time from symptom onset to presentation is one potential strategy for earlier lung cancer diagnosis but distinguishing respiratory symptoms can be difficult. We investigated how the experience of COPD influences symptom appraisal and help?seeking for potential lung cancer symptoms.
We conducted qualitative interviews with men (n=17) and women (n=23) aged 40?83 with COPD. Topic guides drew on the Integrated Symptom?Response Framework and covered symptom experience, interpretation, action, recognition, help?seeking, evaluation and re?evaluation. We used the Framework Method to analyse the data.
Participants said they attributed chest symptoms to their COPD; no other cause was considered. Participants said that family/friends noticed changes in their symptoms and encouraged help?seeking. Others felt isolated by their COPD because they could not get out, were fatigued, or were embarrassed. Participants visited health professionals frequently but increased risk of lung cancer was not discussed.
Our study provides insight into different levels of influence on symptom appraisal and targets for intervention. Greater awareness of increased lung cancer risk and support to act on symptom changes is essential and could be achieved through a concerted information campaign. Health professionals working with people with COPD could also optimise appointments to support symptom appraisal of potential lung cancer symptoms.
Background The Faster Diagnosis Standard (FDS) is to be introduced in England in 2020. This standard is a new policy in which patients should have cancer ruled out or diagnosed within 28 days of referral.
Aim To explore public attitudes towards the FDS within the context of their recent referral experiences.
Design and setting Four 90-minute focus groups (two in Guildford, two in Bradford).
Method Participants aged >50 years without a current cancer diagnosis (N = 29), who had completed certain diagnostic tests, for example, ultrasound, and received results within the last 6 months were recruited. Age, education, and sex were evenly distributed across groups through purposive sampling.
Results The largest cause of concern was the waiting process for obtaining test results. Most had experienced swift referral, and it was difficult for participants to understand how the new standard could impact upon time progressing through the system. Responsibility for meeting the standard was also a concern: participants did not see their own behaviours as a form of involvement. The GP?s role was conceptualised by patients as communicating about their referral, establishing patients? preferences for information, and continued involvement at each stage of the referral process. The standard legitimised chasing for test results, but 28 days was considered too long.
Conclusion Patients should be asked what they would like to know about their referral. GPs should be more transparent about the referral process and the potential for a lack of clarity around next steps.