Women from ethnic minority backgrounds are more likely to be too embarrassed to go to the doctor with potential cancer symptoms than white women, a UK study suggests.

Between 75% and 91% of ethnic minority women were too embarrassed to talk to their family doctor, compared with just 8% of white women, the research found.

Being too scared of what the symptom could indicate and a poor understanding of what the GP is saying are also potential barriers to treatment, according to the Cancer Research UK-funded study.

Researchers at the University of Surrey and King's College London surveyed 720 women from six different ethnic groups in England - white, Caribbean, African, Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi.

They wanted to understand why certain women might delay seeking medical help, and asked participants how strongly they agreed with 11 statements designed to assess potential barriers.

The study, published in Psycho-Oncology, found that white women reported three barriers on average, whereas women from ethnic minority backgrounds reported about six.

Fatalistic beliefs were more common among ethnic minority women, with strong fatalism associated with reduced body awareness.

Some 30% of the women (except Bangladeshi) said they would pray about a symptom compared with 10% of white women.

African, Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi women were also more likely to say they might use traditional remedies.

But it is not known whether they would do these instead of, or as well as, going to the doctor.

Ethnic minority women who moved to the UK as adults were 40% less likely to worry about wasting a GP's time than those born in the UK.

This suggests the British "stiff upper lip" is ingrained in British society but not adopted by women who come to the country later in life.

It is feared that, due to perceiving more barriers, ethnic minority women may postpone seeking medical help.

Dr Julie Sharp, Cancer Research UK's head of health and patient information, said: "Making sure ethnic minority women are aware of things that can be done to make a doctor's appointment easier, such as the use of translation services, will hopefully give them the confidence to speak openly to their GP about any concerns."

She added: "It's understandable that symptoms can be scary, embarrassing or something that's hard to talk about.

"But doctors are there to help and are used to dealing with things patients may find difficult to discuss. In most cases it won't be cancer, but it's best to get it checked out."

Meanwhile, separate research found that women are not familiar enough with the symptoms of ovarian and breast cancer.

Target Ovarian Cancer said women's lives are at risk because they are not equipped to spot cancer symptoms early enough.

Just a fifth of UK women can name bloating as a key ovarian cancer symptom, while over three times more (71%) can name a lump as a key symptom of breast cancer.

By Jemma Crew