Just one in three adults feel confident in recognizing symptoms of cancer in children and teenagers, according to a new study.
Researchers found “significant gaps” in the British public’s awareness of the tell-tale signs and symptoms of cancer in youngsters.
They say the findings of a nationally representative survey, published online in the BMJ’s Archives of Disease in Childhood, show public awareness of the signs and symptoms of cancer in young people is “much lower” than it is in adults.
Yet childhood cancer is the leading cause of death in children over the age of 12 months, and a major cause of acquired disability.
Around 3,750 new cancer cases are diagnosed every year in children and young people under the age of 24 in the UK. And survival rates are reported to lag behind those of the rest of Europe.
Study co-author Dr. Shaarna Shanmugavadivelia said: “Symptoms of the disease in children often mimic other common ailments, and given that screening tests aren’t currently available, public and professional awareness to ensure early diagnosis and treatment is essential.”
The survey of 1,000 adults included questions about perceived risk; overall confidence in recognising cancer signs and symptoms; and which, if any, symptoms merited discussion with a doctor.
Just under a third of the participants (32 per cent) had children under the age of 16.
More than half (56 per cent) perceived the risk to be higher than expected.
But more than two-thirds (68 per cent) said they weren’t confident about identifying the tell-tale signs and symptoms of childhood cancer, with parents of children much more likely to says so than those without.
Symptoms deemed to require medical assessment within 48 hours by more than half the participants included seizures or fits, blood in urine or stool, and persistent vomiting.
But on average, those polled identified only 11 out of 42 classic signs and symptoms.
The least recognised symptoms were early or late puberty (10 per cent); developmental delay in infants (11 per cent); and slow growth (13 per cent)
Almost half of the respondents (43 per cent) said they would wait three months or not seek medical advice at all for persistent or recurrent sore throat or hoarse voice or slow recovery after bone or joint injury.
The most recognised symptoms included a lump or swelling in the pelvis, testicle or breast (46 per cent); blood in urine or stool (44 per cent); changes to moles (43 per cent); a lump or swelling in the chest wall or armpits (41 per cent); and weight loss (40 per cent).
The research team acknowledged that some respondents might have been tempted to give answers they thought would be ‘socially desirable’ rather than what they really thought.
And young people, particularly 16 to 18-year-olds, were under-represented among the respondents.
However, Dr Shanmugavadivelia, of Nottingham University’s School of Medicine, said: “Awareness has been marked as a key strategy for early cancer diagnosis in the UK, but there has been little focus on childhood cancers.
“Perceived rarity of cancer in children is a key barrier to early diagnosis.
“While the number of cases may be small compared with adult cancers, the cumulative risk from birth to early adulthood is comparable to that of other childhood illnesses.”
She added: “This needs to be communicated with the public, as parents usually associate common symptoms with common childhood ailments, but not cancer.”
Produced in association with SWNS Talker