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27.02.17

Charities team up to help doctors diagnose childhood cancer

A new e-learning module has been created to help doctors and healthcare professionals spot the signs of cancer in children and young people.

Cancer charities CLIC Sargent and Teenage Cancer Trust have teamed up to create and fund a new e-learning module for healthcare professionals. Developed in partnership with the Royal College of GPs, this module gives practical guidance on how to recognise early warning signs in children and young people, and advice on when to refer suspicious cases.

Research carried out by the two charities found that young patients would often have a long and difficult route to diagnosis, which they felt had a detrimental impact on their treatment experience.

Diagnosing cancer in children and young people can be challenging due to the nature of the warning signs experienced. The new course is aimed at supporting GPs, GP trainees, nurse practitioners and allied healthcare professionals pick out the potential signs of childhood or young adult cancer.

Common complaints in young people, such as chronic tiredness or limb pain, can easily be put down to stress, growing pains or even sports injuries. While these ailments are unlikely to be a sign of cancer in a young person, it is important for healthcare professionals to be aware of this as a possibility to ensure a cancer diagnosis is not missed or delayed.

In research for CLIC Sargent's Best Chance From the Start report, almost half of GPs polled (46%) named a lack of training opportunities as a barrier to identifying childhood cancer, while 57% said discussions of specific cases with experts would help them identify the need to investigate whether a child or young person had cancer.

It is hoped that such opportunities could help pick up these rare conditions, as more than half of young people interviewed (52%) and almost half of parents (49%) said that they visited their GP at least three times before their diagnosis.

Teenage Cancer Trust’s research on ‘What Really Matters to Young People with Cancer’ from Experience Engineers, states: “When diagnosis was handled efficiently and effectively – and then communicated openly – patients felt confident and more empowered throughout treatment. [They] were more likely to seek the support of GPs during and after treatment if initial contact was handled empathetically.”

The module features a short video from Simon and Donna, whose daughter Hannah,11, was diagnosed with a stage four malignant tumour several months after she began showing symptoms. Her treatment was unsuccessful and she died.

Simon said: “All the way through, she was determined that she wanted to do something that would benefit other children in the future so that they don’t have to go through what she went through.

“I think it very much comes down to a lack of awareness. We would like to have thought that at the hospital that they could have been a little bit more aware or had a bit more understanding. There is, I think, a good chance that it we had caught it in the early days then her prognosis could’ve been a lot better.” 

Kate Lee, Chief Executive at CLIC Sargent, said: “Cancer in children and young people is rare and that can make it difficult to detect. However many parents and young people felt that delays in their diagnosis impacted on their prognosis, treatment, and emotional state.

“We appreciate how difficult it can be for a health professional to make a diagnosis of a rare cancer, especially given the immense pressures they face every day. That is why we want to ensure that doctors have all of the information they need to help them make these diagnoses.

“It has been a pleasure to collaborate with the RCGP and Teenage Cancer Trust in order to bring about this new module, which we hope will prove an important source of knowledge and information for medical professionals throughout the NHS.”

Dr Richard Roope, Cancer Lead for the Royal College of GPs, said: “Cancer is a terrible disease for any patient, but when it affects children and young people it is particularly distressing, for them, their families and carers and for the healthcare professionals delivering their care.

“GPs are already doing a good job of appropriately referring our young patients who we suspect of having cancer - and the positive news is that survival rates of childhood cancer are at an all time high. But initial presentations are very rare in general practice - an average GP might only see one new case of childhood cancer every 19 years – making diagnosis difficult, particularly as many symptoms are similar to other, much more common conditions.

CLIC Sargent would also like to acknowledge the support offered by the Grace Kelly Ladybird Trust and members of the Children's Cancer and Leukaemia Group (CCLG) who contributed valuable content and reviews during the development of the module.  

GPs and Healthcare Professionals can access the course by signing up for a free account on the RCGP eLearning site. The course is free to access and the direct link to it is: http://elearning.rcgp.org.uk/cancercyp

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