Many young cancer patients fail to get early diagnosis, survey reveals

A quarter of young people with cancer visited GPs four times or more before their symptoms were taken seriously and they were referred to a specialist, according to research.

A survey at a Teenage Cancer Trust conference for 300 young cancer patients asked for the experiences of 13- to 24-year-olds after they first experienced symptoms.

The researchers said their findings highlighted “the serious issue of delayed diagnosis” in the age group. Many patients said GPs told them they had an infection or virus, sports injury or stress, or told them to take painkillers. Three patients said they were told specifically they did not have cancer.

More than a third (said they believed learning about cancer at school would have helped them identify their symptoms sooner, and 59% wanted to see it included in the national curriculum.

The trust is launching the first teenage cancer awareness week, running until 4 May, and has produced a schools pack to help teachers talk about cancer in the classroom.

Professor Sir Mike Richards, national clinical director for cancer, said: “Early diagnosis is best achieved through the education of young people to increase their confidence in talking to doctors and helping everyone recognise the signs and symptoms of cancer in this age group.

“This is a major programme of work and something which we are working closely with Teenage Cancer Trust to achieve.”

Simon Davies, the trust’s chief executive, said: “We have been urging for cancer to be on the national curriculum for many years. We’re still waiting. That’s why we’ve developed our own education team to help teachers tackle this difficult topic and created teenage cancer awareness week to help raise awareness of the five most common signs of cancer.

“Young people need GPs to take a ‘three strikes’ approach. If a young person presents with the same symptoms three times, GPs should automatically refer them for further investigation. The two-week referral for suspected cancer is a major breakthrough but young people won’t benefit until GPs think cancer quicker.”

Five of the most common symptoms and warning signs in young people are: unexplained and persistent pain; a lump, bump or swelling; extreme tiredness; significant weight loss; and changes in a mole.