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I am a medical negligence solicitor at Boyes Turner and in the past few years I have regularly dealt with cases involving a delay in diagnosis of a medical condition. More recently, I have dealt with cases where there has been a delay in diagnosing a brain tumour in a child or young adult, and it has highlighted to me the ongoing issues surrounding the diagnosis of these tumours across the country.

Brain tumours in the UK

Did you know that ten children or teenagers a week are diagnosed with a brain tumour in the UK? More children and people under 40 years of age die of a brain tumour than any other cancer.

Sadly, it is estimated that the time taken from the onset of a child’s symptoms to diagnosis can be anywhere from 12-13 weeks up to a year, or even eighteen months. In other countries, cases are diagnosed as quickly as within five weeks.

So why is it taking so long to diagnose and treat these tumours?

One of the possible reasons for the delay of diagnosis of brain tumours, in children and young people in particular, is a failure to recognise and act upon the symptoms of a brain tumour. Failure to act can result in a delay in an onward referral for specialist medical investigation.

How can we learn more about the symptoms of a brain tumour?

“Headsmart” is a project that aims to raise awareness of the symptoms of brain tumours in children and young people. 

They believe that by educating healthcare professionals and the public about the symptoms of brain tumours in children and young people that we will see a reduction in the time it takes to diagnose these tumours.

It is hoped that with a reduction in the time it takes to diagnose children with brain tumours, there can be a reduction in the long-term disability that many children and young people will otherwise experience.

I attended a meeting in Birmingham recently and heard Professor David Walker speak on the issue of the delay in diagnosis of brain tumours in children. He provided a very interesting summary of the symptoms to look out for, many of which I would not have associated with a tumour. 

Brain tumours and medical negligence

I found the talk even more informative because I am currently involved in a clinical negligence matter where a young child, experiencing problems with his vision, suffered a delay in diagnosis of a craniopharyngioma (a type of brain tumour derived from the pituitary gland).

Despite his symptoms being reported to the GP, he was not referred into hospital for further tests. Instead, the GP recommended he be assessed by an optician. The optometric tests were inconclusive.

After a further five month period, and no improvement in the child’s visual symptoms, his mum was so concerned that she took him back to see the optician. It was only then he was referred on to the hospital for further examination. At that point the craniopharyngioma was diagnosed.

This type of brain tumour is benign, but the cystic element of the tumour grows to invade the optic cavity, and compress the optic nerves, causing vision loss. Treatment for this type of brain tumour is often surgery and radiation therapy, sometimes involving proton beam therapy (which is currently only available in America).

Why aren’t the symptoms of a brain tumour recognised earlier?

Unfortunately the symptoms of a brain tumour can be very similar to those that occur with much more common and less serious childhood illnesses. For that reason, doctors don’t always realise the symptoms that can suggest a brain tumour.

Headsmart have produced this symptom card to help inform people about the symptoms to look out for. CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFORMATION>

The Headsmart campaign was officially launched in June 2011. At the time there was widespread coverage on national and regional TV, radio and online. Unfortunately the campaign has recently been overshadowed by other medical issues in the news.

In the next instalment of this article, learn where brain tumours might be found and the effect they can have as well as more about treatment options.