Page last updated at 17:08 GMT, Monday, 9 June 2008 18:08 UK

Teen cancer diagnoses 'delayed'

Edward Farndale on his diagnosis

Teenagers with cancer often face significant delays in being initially diagnosed, researchers have warned.

Three studies presented to the Teenage Cancer Trust conference in London will show the teenagers themselves tend to seek help quickly when symptoms appear.

The delays usually occur because GPs fail to spot cancer signs, or hospital doctors order the wrong tests.

Professor Tim Eden, one of the researchers behind the work, said it was important to educate professionals.

Cancer causes 11% of all deaths in the 15-24 age group.

Teenagers diagnosed with cancer are now more likely to survive the illness, but the improvements are not as dramatic as those seen in young children.

Four or more GP visits

Professor Eden, who is based at the University of Manchester, studied 115 patients with bone tumours.

He found the time between spotting the first symptom and a diagnosis ranged from four to 184 weeks - the average time was about 15 weeks.

The delay was worse if the patient was aged 12 or over, and if the patient went to their GP rather than A&E, where X-rays were more likely to be carried out.

Cancer in this age group is extremely rare
Professor Steve Field, Royal College of GPs

A second study looked at 95 patients with a variety of tumours and found the interval ranged from two to 192 weeks, with an average wait of 9.5 weeks until diagnosis.

A third study by Sam Smith, a teenage cancer nurse at Manchester's Christie Hospital, surveyed 200 young people, and found 80% sought help within four weeks of noticing pain, a lump or swelling, weight loss or tiredness.

Almost all of them had two or three of these symptoms.

But 54% of patients with Hodgkin lymphoma, 59% with brain tumours and 46% with bone tumours visited their GP four or more times with symptoms before referral.

'Reduce distrust'

Professor Eden said: "It would appear that when we compare these data with studies of children with cancer, teenagers and young adults do face greater delays in diagnosis, particularly for bone and brain tumours and Hodgkin lymphoma.

Teenagers and young adults do face greater delays in diagnosis
Professor Tim Eden, University of Manchester

"And the older the patient, the longer the delay.

"In our studies the professional interval has always been longer than patient symptom interval."

He said there were delays at both GP and hospital levels.

Professor Eden said it was important to raise awareness amongst doctors of the signs of cancer in teenagers and to speed up their response.

"Whether this will improve survival remains unclear but it will reduce anxiety, anger and distrust of doctors."

Professor Steve Field, chairman of the Royal College of GPs, said: "It's very easy to look back and say 'a GP should have seen something' but cancer in this age group is extremely rare."

But he added: "When a patient is found to have cancer, the GP should look back and see whether or not there were signs that could have been picked up earlier."

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