A report released today by Teenage Cancer Trust shows that over a third of young people with cancer (37%) are diagnosed through admission to accident and emergency. This is nearly three times the number of adults diagnosed in this way (13%)1. Of these young people, over a quarter (26%) had already been to see their GP with cancer symptoms. The report also highlights that diagnosis through A&E is associated with poorer prognosis and poorer care experience.
These latest figures are from the Improving Diagnosis report released today by Teenage Cancer Trust to mark the start of Teenage Cancer Action Week. Around seven young people aged 13 to 24 are diagnosed with cancer every day in the UK and more young people die as a result than any other disease. Whilst it is accepted that early diagnosis leads to better outcomes in adults, cancer in young people is harder to diagnose because the signs are so similar to other less harmful problems. This means young people with cancer are frequently misdiagnosed with issues like infections, sports injuries and exam stress.
Teenage Cancer Trust believes that improving awareness of the signs of cancer in this age group will help improve their diagnostic experience. The Improving Diagnosis report offers guidance for young people worried about their health as well as information for parents, teachers and health professionals.
Fay Turner-Paxton, 19, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma at 15. Fay said, “I was really tired, sleeping for 14 hours at a time. My GP said I was anaemic but didn’t do any tests. Two weeks later my whole body was aching so I went back to the GP, and was told it might be arthritis. I lost two stone in six weeks, and this time the GP said it was psychological. I went back one more time but still wasn’t referred. I then found a painful lump under my arm so went to A&E and was booked for a scan, but the next day the pain had spread across my chest and I couldn’t breathe so I went back. This time I was admitted. I was really ill by this point and was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma soon after.
Siobhan Dunn, Chief Executive of Teenage Cancer Trust said, “We must improve the diagnostic experience of young people with cancer. We must empower young people to be persistent at the doctors if they’re not getting better and not wait until they have to go to A&E. Safety netting* is one of the most important tools that can be used by GPs to make sure young people like Fay aren’t left with no option but to seek emergency help.
If we all learn the signs of cancer in young people and share this information with friends and family, we can make a huge difference.”
Sam Smith, Head of Nursing at Teenage Cancer Trust said, “We must be vigilant with young people if their illnesses show no improvement. We’re urging GPs to employ rigorous safety netting techniques that keep young people coming back when symptoms do not resolve or worsen. GPs should consider referral after repeat consultations for the same symptoms and keep up to date with referral guidelines for suspected cancer.”
The Improving Diagnosis report provides context for the findings and outlines why the signs of cancer are hard to spot in young people, as well as steps that can be taken to improve their experience. Contributors include Greg Rubin, head of the National Audit of Cancer Diagnosis in Primary Care on behalf of the Royal College of General Practitioners; GP Ken Lawton head of RCGP Scotland for revalidation and Chair of the Scottish Academy Revalidation Group; GP Richard Neal, chair of the Early Diagnosis Sub-Group of the NCRI Primary Care Clinical Studies Group; and Lorna Fern, Research Manager, NCRI Teenage and Young Adult Clinical Studies Group.
The report marks the start of Teenage Cancer Action week (14 to 20 October). Teenage Cancer Trust is asking everyone to LEARN the five most common signs of cancer in young people, SHARE this knowledge with family and friends, and GIVE by texting TEEN to 70300 to donate £3** to empower a generation of young people to take control of their own health.
The five most common signs of cancer in young people aged 13 to 24 are PERSISTENT and UNEXPLAINED:
- Lump, bump or swelling
- Significant weight loss
- Extreme tiredness
- Changes in a mole
Teenage Cancer Trust is also encouraging teachers to download the teaching pack from www.teenagecancertrust.org/actionweek and speak to students about the signs of cancer during Teenage Cancer Action Week.
Follow Teenage Cancer Action Week on www.facebook.com/teenagecancertrust and twitter @teenagecancer. Share the #5signs and other fun content during the week to help spread the word.
Visit teenagecancertrust.org/actionweek to find out more.