08 March 2021

Report raises awareness about diagnosing childhood cancer


A paper on childhood cancer awareness has been published with the aim of reducing the time it takes to diagnose cancer in children, teenagers and young adults.

Helping GPs diagnose children’s cancer” is published in the British Journal of General Practice and written by Children’s Cancer and Leukaemia Group (CCLG)’s Child Cancer Smart project team, with the Grace Kelly Childhood Cancer Trust (GKCCT) and the Children’s Brain Tumour Research Centre at the University of Nottingham.

The paper says GPs need diagnostic support with enhanced awareness, training and guidelines, relevant to current-day practice.

Ashley Gamble, CEO of CCLG, said: “Childhood cancer is the biggest killer by disease of children in the UK, and many children can experience long delays to diagnosis, which can have a profound clinical impact.

“Delays can lead to more advanced disease at presentation and, subsequently, greater risk of death and poorer long-term health for survivors.

“This paper is an important part of what we are trying to do with Child Cancer Smart, in helping to raise awareness among GPs and reiterating the importance of early diagnosis.”

Dr Jennifer Kelly, a GP and director of the GKCCT, added: “Despite childhood cancer being the biggest medical cause of death of children in the UK, many professionals still believe it to be exceptionally rare. The aim of this paper is to challenge this fact and raise awareness of the issue amongst GPs.

“The paper emphasises the fact that although an average GP will only see a few cases on average in their career, the relative risk for each child is significant. This means childhood cancer is a diagnosis that must be considered.”

Child Cancer Smart is undertaking a systematic review of the published scientific literature on signs, symptoms and diagnosis of childhood cancers. The results of this will be used to develop high-quality clinical referral guidelines and learning resources for GPs and other healthcare professionals, to help them recognise symptoms and make appropriate referrals.

The GKCCT has also developed a free awareness tool, which will be refined as new evidence emerges.

Dr Kelly said: “This awareness card to teach the signs and symptoms of childhood cancer is already saving lives. The contents will further be refined with the evidence produced from the Child Cancer Smart study.”

Child Cancer Smart hopes to build on the work of HeadSmart, which helped to halve the diagnosis times for children with brain tumours in the UK.

Dr Shaarna Shanmugavadivel, a paediatrician and NIHR doctoral research fellow at University of Nottingham, said: “Child Cancer Smart will empower both healthcare professionals and the public with the knowledge and guidance to make the diagnosis.

“Childhood cancer is not preventable and so early diagnosis is the best way to ensure the best possible outcomes for our children and young people who are sadly diagnosed.

“Working together as healthcare professionals and parents will ensure that we’re asking the right questions to achieve this.”


Walker DA. (2021) “Helping GPs to diagnose children’s cancer.” British Journal of General Practice, doi: 10.3399/bjgp21X715241


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