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Monday, 30 April 2012

Teenage Cancer - an unspoken subject?

In today’s Guardian, The Teenage Cancer Trust reports that young cancer sufferers tend to visit their doctor with symptoms at least four times before being referred for investigations.

The Trust’s research talks about a serious problem of delayed diagnosis in the 13 – 24 age groups.

It does not take any great medical knowledge to appreciate that delay in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer is an extremely dangerous thing. The quicker the treatment the more likely the patient is to receive quick and effective treatment.

One report in the US Medical Journal – The Oncologist in 2007 refers to the poorer outcomes in cancer treatment of young people and mentions delay in diagnosis as a possible explanation –

So this isn’t just a UK problem.

I have been involved in many cases over the years where failure to diagnose has led to tragic but avoidable outcomes.

So what is the answer?

  1. Education of young people – a person who knows the risk is less likely to have their concerns dismissed. This is a subject where people are desperate for ‘good news’.
  2. Educate doctors – the Guardian report mentions 3 strike policy so that if a young person attends three times with the same symptoms they should be referred,
  3. Be aware of and support the work of the Teenage Cancer Trust - This can be achieved through the curriculum and by the great work of charities like The Teenage Cancer Trust -


  1. In 2011 a friend of mine, who was 19 at the time, was diagnosed with lymphoma. He was a full time student in university and it was thought that he was just "burning the candle at both ends" which was causing him to feel run down. It took a number of attendances with his GP who eventually sent him straight to hospital for tests. In this case, both education of symptoms to students and a three strike approach would have helped an earlier diagnosis. I'm pleased to say that he has just has his 20th birthday and is now in remission. He is also very much involved with the Teenage Cancer Trust.