Teen Cancer Trust warns doctors over young patients

24/06/11

Laura Saunders

Campaigners are warning doctors not to rule out cancer when diagnosing younger patients.

A Teenage Cancer Trust survey suggested that many young sufferers believe they could have been diagnosed earlier.

One in four cancer patients told a Trust survey they had to visit their GP at least four times before their symptoms were taken seriously.

Every year in the UK 2,100 people aged between 13 and 24 are told they have cancer.

It is the number one cause of non-accidental death.

'Constantly tired'

Even though younger victims make up only 0.6% of the overall number of cancer sufferers in Britain, campaigners say they shouldn't be neglected.

Laura Saunders, from Hemel Hempstead in Hertfordshire, was diagnosed with cancer in 2009 when she was just 18 years old.

She told Newsbeat that for more than a year doctors kept dismissing her symptoms.

Cancer in young people

    • Six 13 to 24-year-olds are diagnosed with cancer in the UK every day
    • That's more than 2,100 young people a year
    • One in 312 males and one in 361 females will get cancer before the age of 20
    • Cancer is the number one cause of non-accidental death in young adults in the UK

"I didn't have a period for a year, I was constantly bloated, constantly tired.

"My stomach stretched so far that I have stretch marks but they said I was just stressed," she said.

Laura eventually started vomiting and was taken to the accident and emergency department at her local hospital.

She was so dehydrated that she needed two blood transfusions.

A day later, she was told that she had cancer and that specialists found a germ cell tumour on her ovary.

"I was told on the phone that I had cancer and it was definitely the most devastating part of it.

"My whole family was listening because it was on speaker and it's the only time I cried," she said.

The Teenage Cancer Trust claims Laura's story resonates with many young sufferers who weren't diagnosed for months.

Susie Rice works for the charity and said: "Young people are experts at their own bodies.

'Early diagnosis'

"If there is something wrong with them, if they think there's a lump or a swelling, they must speak to their GP.

"And the job for the GP is to listen to these people and take them seriously," she added.

The charity surveyed 400 young cancer patients and more than 60% of them believed they could have been diagnosed more quickly.

The Department of Health told Newsbeat: "The government is determined to improve cancer survival rates and early diagnosis is the key.

"Our cancer strategy sets out the direction for improved cancer care, aiming to save an additional five thousand lives a year."

Meanwhile for Laura, getting over cancer has been a long haul - though she's now fully recovered.

"You know your own body and if you know you're not feeling right then you need to be persistent.

"You need to keep going back whether you become a nuisance or not.

"That's what you want in the end because you want them to take notice of you," she said.