Third MSD Cancer Care Survey* of Switzerland shows: people affected by cancer want to break the cancer taboo

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19.03.2024 08:00 Europe/Zurich

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March 19, 2024 – For the third time now, research institute gfs.bern was commissioned by MSD Switzerland to carry out a representative survey of the population regarding the quality of cancer care. In addition to the 1,255 quantitative interviews, 15 qualitative in-depth interviews have also been conducted with affected people for the first time. The results showed that cancer patients want to break the taboos surrounding cancer. For the third time in a row, respondents also criticized the psychological support in cancer care and the gaps in upstream and downstream counselling services. A consistent, national cancer strategy again received highly positive feedback from 86% of participants.

The MSD Cancer Care Survey, a representative survey conducted by gfs.bern for the third time in a row, shows that the perceived quality of Swiss cancer care remains high again in this survey year. The system was rated “excellent”, “very good” or “generally good” by 86% of respondents. Only 2% assessed the quality as “poor”. 1,255 people from all over Switzerland took part in the 2023 survey from three language regions (German, French and Italian) – either over the phone or online.

Early diagnosis and the earliest possible treatment continue to grow in importance

Interest in health policy has again increased compared to 2022. Whereas only around 18% were very interested in health policy in 2022, the figure has grown to 25% in 2023. Only around 15% of those surveyed have no interest in issues to do with health policy. For the vast majority of survey participants, early diagnosis and the earliest possible cancer treatment is very important. These scores have increased compared to the previous year: Early diagnosis is very important for 79% (+4%), and the earliest possible start of treatment is very important for 78% (+6%). If we also include the scores for “generally important”, then 96% of respondents rate early diagnosis as “very and generally important”, with the figure for the earliest possible treatment also rising to 97%. Of the various cancer care services, the best scores are given to hospital care (medical care and nursing) with 79% and drugs and treatment with 72%.

Improvements Required in Speed, Coordination and Support

If we take a closer look at the different elements involved in cancer care, however, there is certainly room for improvement for various aspects and interfaces. For example, delays relating to diagnosis, finding specialists, and coordinating care and the various bodies involved were rated “poor” by 21 to 25% of survey participants. It is a similar picture for services away from medical care and for psychological support: Around a quarter of those surveyed also criticize these with ratings of “poor” or “very poor”.

“It can happen to anyone”: Prevention is the greatest shortcoming for those directly affected

Affected people interviewed also listed points where there is room for improvement. Shortcomings and gaps are mentioned in relation to prevention, communication, the involvement of relatives, balancing the disease and working life, and the taboos surrounding cancer in wider society. Those directly interviewed cited prevention as the greatest shortcoming in cancer care: For most of the 15 interviewees, their cancer was discovered as an incidental finding. This is why these people in particular feel the greatest potential lies in early cancer diagnosis. The sooner cancer is discovered, the greater these patients rate their survival chances. “Much could be avoided with better prevention. Particularly among young people. They need to be made more aware. After all, it can happen to anyone”, says a 57-year old man, whose testicular cancer was discovered four and a half years ago.

National cancer strategy gains 2 percentage points

The majority of participants favored a national cancer strategy: 86% would definitely or probably vote “Yes” if asked. This is a two percent year on year increase. Of those in favor, 94% are of the opinion that a cancer initiative could save money in the long-term. Ninety-three percent believe that more coordination is needed between the institutions involved. Those against have less convincing arguments: 75% believe that cancer should not be given a special place in the constitution. Only 57% believe that statutory regulation would be unable to solve the problems in Swiss cancer care. For those affected, it is also important that not every cancer patient has specific problems. A consistent national strategy would therefore help everyone affected.

Need for clear communication and understanding from employers

Cancer patients also mention communication with the care team as being a problem. Both the language used and the empathy shown are criticized. However, nursing staff are rated better here than physicians. Respondents want to be seen as “people”. “A little more humanity on the part of oncologists wouldn’t hurt. Perhaps a smile once in a while. Otherwise, they come across a bit like robots. So yes, things could improve a bit at the human level”, according to a 78-year old woman, whose bowel cancer was diagnosed one year ago. Affected people also see major challenges when it comes to balancing cancer treatment and work. Because of the burden of treatment, many find it impossible to continue working at the same level. Not everyone finds that this meets with understanding from employers. “I wish I could balance my disease and my work better. Today, it depends on the employer. Many issues related to work are not or not very well regulated”, according to a 51-year old man diagnosed with lymph node cancer.

* MSD Cancer Care Survey 2023, Swiss Cancer Care: Humanity as the Key to Cancer Treatment. gfs.bern. December 2023. Download the full report at: Also available upon request from the Media Spokesperson below.

About the research institute gfs.bern

The research institute that bears overall responsibility for the survey, gfs.bern ag, can draw on a long tradition of empirical social research. Founded in 1959 as the Gesellschaft zur Förderung der empirischen Sozialforschung der Schweiz (GfS), it started operating as a separate business unit of GfS-Forschungsinstitut AG from 1986 with the aim of conducting social empirical research with a focus on politics and communication research. The unit became its own company in 2004 as gfs.bern ag.
gfs.bern sees itself as a methodical, full-service provider with clear areas of specialism. The company’s market presence aims to achieve quality leadership in applied social research (in concrete terms: survey research with face-to-face, phone, online, and written interviews) and has been able to maintain this advantage in analysis to political opinion-forming processes for around 20 years. As such, gfs.bern has played a pivotal role in shaping empirical social research in terms of social policy and democratic decision-making processes in Switzerland. gfs.bern also has many years of experience in monitoring politics and policy processes. Holding teaching positions at the universities of Zürich, Berne and Fribourg, as well as at various higher education institutes, means we can contribute our findings to the world of education and to reflect upon our own work in an academic setting.
For more information, please visit

Media spokesperson gfs.bern
Lukas Golder
Co-Head gfs.bern | Phone +41 31 311 62 10

About MSD

At MSD, known as Merck & Co., Inc., Rahway, N.J., USA in the United States and Canada, we are unified around our purpose: We use the power of leading-edge science to save and improve lives around the world. For more than 130 years, we have brought hope to humanity through the development of important medicines and vaccines. We aspire to be the premier research-intensive biopharmaceutical company in the world – and today, we are at the forefront of research to deliver innovative health solutions that advance the prevention and treatment of diseases in people and animals. We foster a diverse and inclusive global workforce and operate responsibly every day to enable a safe, sustainable and healthy future for all people and communities.

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Media contact

Dr. phil. Caroline Hobi
Associate Director External Affairs
MSD Merck Sharp & Dohme AG
Werftestrasse 4
6005 Lucerne (Switzerland) | Tel. +41 76 511 93 59

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CH-NON-02578, 02/2024

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