In April 2019 Populus conducted an online survey of 2,077 people to gauge the public’s understanding towards cancer, cancer research, NHS cancer services and the funding of relevant forms of treatment and care. These findings form part of a wider report by the UCL School of Pharmacy, British Public Attitudes towards Cancer Research and Treatment in 2019. The findings from this survey provide a framework for future cancer research and complement qualitative research on policy maker’s beliefs and goals related to cancer.

Cancer remains top disease group from which public want better protection from

Seven in ten (73%) respondents have or have had a relative or close friend with cancer, and over half of them say this has significantly affected their lives. One in ten (9%) of those surveyed admitted to having had or currently have cancer, with half of them saying it has had significant impact on their lives.

Improving cancer treatments is a priority for the British public. For half of those surveyed (49%) cancers are the disease group from which they want better protection for themselves and their family members. This is double the number of respondents choosing dementias as their key protection priority (25%). Although two in three believe children and young adults should get the most effective cancer treatments, 95% of men and women aged 65 and over believe they are just as entitled to receive the same treatments as anyone else.

When asked about the serious disease consequences they most wanted to avoid, 48% didn’t want to live in a confused state for years with little control over what happened to them. The two next highest priorities were avoiding premature death (16%) and having to live with chronic pain (16%).

Public attitudes towards the NHS cancer services

Overall there is strong public support for the NHS as a tax funded and universally available service, with 77% agreeing with this approach. If they or a family member were to develop cancer, one third of British adults said the care offered by their GPs and NHS cancer specialists would be world-class. Yet 22% are concerned the NHS doesn’t consistently provide the most effective treatment, while a further 7% were worried they would receive poor quality NHS cancer care. Over eight in ten respondents agree that the NHS professionals need more resources to provide excellent cancer care. Almost half of those surveyed (47%) say they are less inclined to trust the quality of the NHS when they hear they don’t have all the resources readily available, including any new cancer treatments.

Early diagnosis is clearly a top priority for as many as 80% said they would rather it was diagnosed as early as possible, even if it turned out to be a false alarm. Four in ten respondents would talk to pharmacists more than their GPs if the technology was available to help them detect the early signs of cancer.

Should the public be funding new anti-cancer medicines and treatments?

British public opinion is divided on issues relating to paying for new cancer treatments and funding research through granting patents for new treatments to public and private bodies. Over 4 in ten (44%) of the people we asked think the NHS should buy cancer treatments as cheaply as possible, regardless of impacts on research and industrial development. Over five in ten believe Britain should pay as much for new anti-cancer medicines like France and Germany.

Populus also found among respondents:

Cancer treatment remains a leading healthcare priority

These findings, although conflicting at times, point to the fundamental point that the British public regards the threats to current and future wellbeing caused by cancer as a leading healthcare priority. They are not isolated, personal hopes and worries, but grounded in what people want most for themselves and the protection of their families. There are major opportunities to achieve this common goal, if people can work together to fund effective research and good care delivery.

Read the full report here.

View the data tables here.


Populus interviewed 2,077 members of the UK public between 15th and 16th April 2019. Quotas and weights were used to ensure the sample was representative of the UK adult population. Populus is a founder member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. For more information visit