Family doctors 'miss common signs of cancer in a third of teenagers', shock study finds
Of those cancer patients who were misdiagnosed at first, 12 per cent were told they were attention seeking



13:02 GMT, 30 April 2012

Two thirds of young people with cancer will visit their GP with at least one of the most common cancer symptoms – yet a third of these cases are missed by doctors, according to research.

One in four had to visit their doctor at least four times before they were taken seriously and referred to a specialist.

Lucy Parker, 17, from the Isle Of Man, was only diagnosed with a muscle tumour when her mother took her to hospital after she was turned away by her GP three times.

Lucy Parker, 17, is now undergoing chemotherapy. She said it took her six weeks to be diagnosed

Lucy Parker, 17, is now undergoing chemotherapy. She said it took her six weeks to be diagnosed

Of those who were at first misdiagnosed, 12 per cent were told they were attention seeking while 15 per cent were told they just had a virus.

Other misdiagnoses included telling patients they were suffering indigestion, vertigo or swine flu.

The research, conducted at Teenage Cancer Trust's 2012 conference for 300 young cancer patients, looked at the experiences of 13- to 24-year-olds when they first experienced symptoms of cancer.

Five of the most common symptoms and warning signs in youngsters are unexplained and persistent pain, a lump or swelling, extreme fatigue, significant weight loss or changes in a mole.

Researchers said their findings highlight 'the serious issue of delayed diagnosis' in the age group.


Infection or virus (15%)

It's nothing/you're attention seeking (12%)

Sports injury (10%)

Stress, depression or psychosomatic (6%)

Eating disorder (2%)

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.'

More than a third of young cancer patients believe learning about cancer at school would have helped them identify their symptoms sooner.

The majority (59 per cent) also want to see the signs and symptoms of cancer included in the national curriculum.

Simon Davies, chief executive of Teenage Cancer Trust 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.'


Lucy Parker, 17, from Isle Of Man, was diagnosed with a muscle tumour when she was 16.

But she said: 'For a month and a half
I was going to the doctors with a lump. I was prescribed antibiotics
and diagnosed with an abscess.

'During this time the lump grew in
size and became very painful. In that time I also found two more swollen
and bruised lumps in my groin and one in my leg, my lymph nodes were
also swollen.

'We went to the GP three times and I
was given antibiotics and even when the lymph node was the size of a
lemon we were told it was a bruise and to ignore it.

'My mum then took me to the hospital
where I was told to go home, but we both insisted there was a problem. A
surgeon was then asked to come to A&E where he carried out an
examination. He then told me there was a lump and it needed to be
investigated further. That night I had a biopsy from both lumps.'

Miss Parker was first told she had Non Hodgkin’s Lymphoma but this diagnosis was changed to a form of cancer called Alveolar Rhabdomyosarcoma nine days later.

'I didn't understand how this lump had gone from being a harmless abscess to cancer,' she said.

Miss Parker had seven months of
chemotherapy and six weeks of radiotherapy. She is now six months into a
year's worth of maintenance chemotherapy.

She said: 'You need to tell yourself
that you can do it and you will get through it. My oncologist was very
positive from the start, he told me that people can get through it and I
stuck with that. I think that is something that has helped me. Positive
thinking is everything.'