The time it takes doctors to diagnose a brain tumour in children and young people has fallen for a second year in a row, two years after the launch of a national awareness campaign involving experts at The University of Nottingham.
The latest diagnosis time results, which were announced at a major child health conference in Glasgow last week, 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 HeadSmart: Be Brain Tumour Aware was launched in 2011.
The campaign, which was the brainchild of The Brain Tumour Charity
, the Children’s Brain Tumour Research Centre
at The University of Nottingham and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health
, has the goal of reducing the average length of time diagnosis takes in the UK to five weeks.
The campaign was born out of the concern that was developing among health professionals and parents about the length of time it was taking to diagnose brain tumours in children, thus delaying treatment.
“Brain tumours in children can be very difficult to diagnose for two reasons.” explains 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 2 years ago showed that the average interval between onset of symptoms and diagnosis was 9.1 weeks. Recent figures from 479 children diagnosed since the launch show a reduction in the 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 is based on a clinical guideline endorsed by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health and accredited by NHS Evidence. The campaign aims to enhance awareness of the signs and symptoms of childhood brain tumours among parents and health professionals and guide them about what to do if they are concerned.
Resources for parents and carers include a website, symptom awareness cards, an innovative smartphone app and other literature, which are being distributed and publicised around the country. Knowledge of the signs and symptoms will help parents and carers to decide whether their child needs to see a doctor and help them effectively communicate their concerns with the doctor.
The campaign 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 think the child might have a brain tumour. A core 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.
Spreading the word
The campaign has benefited from great support from areas of the national and local media, as well as from locally based 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 was pleased to have had 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 says. “The HeadSmart campaign has been going for two years so to see these results is just phenomenal.” But she isn’t complacent. “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.”
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Notes to editors: The University of Nottinghamhas 42,000 students at award-winning campuses in the United Kingdom, China and Malaysia. It was ‘one of the first to embrace a truly international approach to higher education’, according to the Sunday Times University Guide 2013. It is also one of the most popular universities among graduate employers, one of the world’s greenest universities, and winner of the Times Higher Education Award for ‘Outstanding Contribution to Sustainable Development’. It is ranked in the UK's Top 10 and the World's Top 75 universities by the Shanghai Jiao Tong and the QS World Rankings.
More than 90 per cent of research at The University of Nottingham is of international quality, according to the most recent Research Assessment Exercise. The University aims to be recognised around the world for its signature contributions, especially in global food security, energy & sustainability, and health. The University won a Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education for its research into global food security.
Impact: The Nottingham Campaign, its biggest ever fundraising campaign, will deliver the University’s vision to change lives, tackle global issues and shape the future. More news…