Doctors 'missing cancer' in young people, says survey

04/05/12

Jessica Membry

Doctors are being criticised for failing to diagnose cancer early in many 13 to 24-year-olds.

A charity, Teenage Cancer Trust, surveyed 300 cancer patients in that age group and their findings suggested that doctors missed common signs of cancer in a third of them.

A quarter of the patients said they had to go back to their GP at least four times before they were diagnosed.

It is not the first time this has been highlighted as a problem.

Sam Smith from Teenage Cancer Trust says they "see delays in cancer diagnosis again and again" in that age group.

Six people in their teens and early 20s find out they have cancer every day in the UK, which is more than 2,000 per year.

'Proper sick'

Jessica Membry was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin lymphoma, which is cancer of the blood, last year aged 19.

It was her eighth visit to different doctors over three months.

She says the cancer had spread from her pancreas to her shoulders, neck and groin.

"By the time they had diagnosed it I had lost three stone," she said. "I couldn't keep anything down, not even water. I was proper sick."

Jessica says she was scared and shocked but also frustrated.

"Doctors are professionals and for the money they get should look into it with more depth," she said.

Common cancer symptoms

    • Pain
    • A lump, bump or swelling
    • Extreme tiredness
    • Significant weight loss
    • Changes in a mole
Common symptoms of cancer when you don't know what's causing them and they are persistent

The Royal College of General Practitioners says cancer in young people is difficult to diagnose because it is very rare and many symptoms are the same as other illnesses or are things that can happen when you are not ill at all, like headaches or tiredness in the morning.

Its chair, Doctor Clare Gerada, said they had "been trying to raise awareness of teenage cancer" and were now working with charities like Cancer Research UK to improve early detection rates.

Jessica had chemotherapy last year and has been in remission for six months.

She still gets tired but says she is feeling more positive.