DOCTORS are failing to spot cancer in young patients even when they have one of the most common symptoms of the disease, according to a new report.
Some sufferers were even told they were attention-seeking.
Almost two-thirds of young people with cancer visited GPs with at least one of the most common cancer symptoms – yet for a third their doctors took no action.
A quarter visited GPs four times or more before their symptoms were taken seriously and they were referred to a specialist.
The research, conducted at Teenage Cancer Trust’s 2012 conference for 300 young cancer patients, looked at the experiences of 13 to 24-year-olds when they first experienced symptoms of cancer.
Researchers said their findings highlight “the serious issue of delayed diagnosis” in the age group.
Misdiagnoses and feedback from GPs included: infection or virus (15 per cent); it’s nothing/you’re attention-seeking (12 per cent); sports injury (10 per cent); stress, depression or psychosomatic (6 per cent); “take painkillers” (5 per cent); eating disorder (2 per cent); “come back in six months”. Three patients were told specifically “you don’t have cancer”.
Other misdiagnoses included telling patients they were suffering indigestion, vertigo and swine flu.
Professor Sir Mike Richards, national clinical director for cancer, said: “Early diagnosis is best achieved through the education of young people to increase their confidence in talking to doctors and helping everyone recognise the signs and symptoms of cancer in this age group.
“This is a major programme of work, and something which we are working closely with Teenage Cancer Trust to achieve.”
More than a third of young cancer patients believe learning about cancer at school would have helped them identify their symptoms sooner.
The majority (59 per cent) also want to see the signs and symptoms of cancer included in the national curriculum.
The findings come as Teenage Cancer Trust launches the first Teenage Cancer awareness week.
Simon Davies, chief executive of Teenage Cancer Trust, said: “Young people need GPs to take a ‘three strikes’ approach.
“If a young person presents with the same symptoms three times, GPs should automatically refer them for further investigation.”