Teenagers likely to face long delays in cancer diagnosis

June 9th, 2008 - 1:27 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, June 9 (ANI): Teenagers and young adults with cancer are likely to face long delays in the diagnosis of the disease, say researchers.

Tim Eden, Teenage Cancer Trust Professor of TYA Cancer at the University of Manchester, UK conducted the study on 115 patients with bone tumours.

His team found that the time between the first symptom and a diagnosis (the symptom interval) ranged from four to 184 weeks with the average time being 15.2 weeks.

They also found that the delay was longer if the patient was over 12 years at presentation and if they went to their GP first, rather than going to a hospital accident and emergency department.

X-rays were more likely to be taken in A&E at once. Delays also varied depending on the type and site of the tumour.

The symptom interval is made up of the time it takes a young person to seek help and delay by health professionals in recognising symptoms that require referral and prompt diagnosis.

Another study that analysed 95 patients with a variety of tumours found that the symptom interval ranged from two to 192 weeks with the average length being 9.5 weeks. It varied depending on tumour type, with the shortest wait being seen in those with leukaemia and the longest for bone tumours.

A third study (Manchester, UK), shows that out of 207 young people with cancer who took part in an interactive survey, four out five sought medical help very quickly and only seven per cent delayed for a matter of months.

Approximately half of the patients with Hodgkin lymphoma, brain and bone cancers had to visit their general practitioner (GP) four or more times before they were referred to a specialist.

“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, said Eden

In our studies the professional interval has always been longer than patient symptom interval. There appears to be delay at primary, secondary and tertiary care levels. Interventions are being explored, both to educate the public, and young people in particular, to seek help for worrying symptoms and to empower them to push for referral to specialists.

However, it would seem to be more important to raise awareness amongst professionals to recognise worrying signs and to trigger them to be more rapid in their response; in addition, they need to ensure simple and rapid referral pathways for investigation and subsequent treatment, he added.

While presenting the third study, Ms Sam Smith, a TYA Nurse Consultant in the Teenage Cancer Trust Unit at the Christie Hospital (Manchester, UK) revealed that eighty per cent reported that they had gone to their GP 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.

Our findings do show that age is a factor in the number of GP visits, with the older age group reporting more visits before being referred, she said.

“The minority of patients who did delay seeking help sometimes waited for several months. Of that small group, about 60pct had Hodgkin lymphoma, which normally presents slowly with increasing swelling most commonly in the neck, but it can be elsewhere in the body, she added.

We need to assist professionals in: recognising signs and symptoms as being potentially serious; referring patients in a timely fashion to appropriate experts; but above all, considering the possibility of cancer in this age range, said Eden

Cancer is, after all, the most common disease causing death in the 15-24 age range, accounting for 11% of all deaths,” he added.

The three studies will be presented at Teenage Cancer Trust’s Fifth International Conference on Teenage and Young Adult Cancer Medicine. (ANI)

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