Date Published: 12 June 2013
Reduction in time taken to diagnose brain tumours in children
Experts at Nottingham University (Nottinghamshire, England) have recently highlighted the good news that the time taken by medical staff to diagnose a brain tumour in children and young people has fallen for a second year running, two years after the launch of a national awareness campaign in which the team from Nottingham University are involved.
The latest diagnosis time results, which were recently announced at a major child health conference in Glasgow, showed that the average length of time it took to diagnose a brain tumour in a child in the UK has fallen to 6.9 weeks ? down from 7.5 weeks last year and from 9.1 weeks at the time that the awareness campaign HeadSmart: Be Brain Tumour Aware was launched in 2011.
The purpose of the campaign, which was proposed by The Brain Tumour Charity, the Children's Brain Tumour Research Centre at Nottingham University and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, is to reduce reducing the average length of time diagnosis takes in the UK to five weeks. This arose from concern among both health professionals and parents about length of time then taken to diagnose brain tumours in children, and the consequent delay in starting treatment.
" Brain tumours in children can be very difficult to diagnose for two reasons." explained Dr Sophie Wilne, a consultant paediatric oncologist at Nottingham Children's Hospital.
" The initial symptoms are often non-specific and can occur with other more common and less serious childhood illnesses. There is also lack of awareness among healthcare professionals that brain tumours do occur in children. Most childhood brain tumours are curable and we know that if we reduce the time taken to diagnosis we will reduce the likelihood of a child suffering from long-term, life-altering disability."
A study of 142 children diagnosed before the launch of the campaign 2 years ago indicated that the average time between onset of symptoms and diagnosis was 9.1 weeks. Recent figures from 479 children diagnosed since the launch indicate a reduction in that interval to 6.9 weeks. These figures are encouraging but highlight the need for further education about the symptoms caused by brain tumours to be available to both parents and health professionals.
The campaign provides resources for parents and carers, including a website, symptom awareness cards, a smartphone app and other literature, which are being distributed and publicised around the UK. It is hoped that knowledge of the signs and symptoms will help parents and carers to decide whether their child needs to see a doctor and to help them to more effectively communicate their concerns to the doctor. The campaign also provides health professionals with information, advice and resources on how to identify the cause of symptoms and what the next steps should be if they suspect that the child might have a brain tumour. A central feature of the campaign is an online education module designed to teach doctors about the symptoms and signs of brain tumours and how to decide which children and their families can be reassured, which should be reviewed, and which need immediate scanning.
The campaign HeadSmart: Be Brain Tumour Awarehas benefited from support from national and local media, as well as from local volunteers who disseminate the HeadSmart materials to schools, GP surgeries, clubs and community centres.
Dr David Walker, Professor Paediatric Oncology Children's Brain Tumour Research Centre at The University of Nottingham and lead clinician on the HeadSmart campaign expressed his appreciation for so much support from colleagues from the children brain tumour centres across the UK and Ireland.
" They have played key roles in sharing the campaign messages with local health services and assisted with the recording of symptom intervals as patients present to them. These activities have enhanced the confidence of paediatricians in both reassuring patients who do not need scans, as well as identifying those who need urgent scanning. Their participation in real time measurement of symptom interval allows us to demonstrate the effectiveness of the HeadSmart campaign and enhance its momentum."
Recently the HeadSmart campaign has been shortlisted as a finalist at the prestigious Communiqué Awards in the Excellence in Public Health Communications category. This recognises the work HeadSmart has already done to raise critical awareness of this issue. The winner will be announced at the end of July.
Sarah Lindsell, CEO at The Brain Tumour Charity has welcomed the results.
" The Brain Tumour Charity is really pleased with the news" she said.
" The HeadSmart campaign has been going for two years so to see these results is just phenomenal." However, Ms Lindsell is not complacent and added that "we still have a long way to go and the whole team, across the partner organisations, is working hard to ensure that medical professionals and parents recognise the symptoms of brain tumours in children and young people. 500 children are diagnosed with a brain tumour in the UK each year and we know the sooner they are diagnosed, the better the outcome can be. It's vital that we do not rest on our success so far and continue to work to further reduce the time it takes for tumours to be diagnosed."
Source: Nottingham University, England