In the UK and Ireland, one child in 600 develops cancer or leukaemia and there are 1,700 new cases a year. Three out of ten of those diagnosed with cancer – more than 500 children – will not survive, according to the Children’s Cancer and Leukaemia Group (CCLG).
Childhood Cancer Awareness Month is promoted every December in the UK to raise awareness of these frightening statistics and the profile of the charities fighting to improve treatment for all children with cancer and leukaemia.
The Penningtons Manches’ clinical negligence supports the aims of the cancer charities as it sees many cases where the lives of children suffering from cancer could have been prevented by earlier diagnosis – particularly for primary bone cancer, a rare type of cancer accounting for only two in every 1,000 cancers diagnosed.
The young are often affected by primary bone cancer but the early signs often remain undiagnosed if the child fails to bring attention to them or if the parent fails to appreciate their potential significance. Bone cancers can also occur in children as well as adults with Ewing's sarcoma, which most commonly occurrs between the ages of 10 and 20, and osteosarcomas, occurring most commonly between the ages of 10 and 25. As primary bone cancer is considered quite rare, health professionals are less likely to include it as a differential diagnosis.
Alison Johnson, senior associate in the clinical negligence team at Penningtons Manches LLP, says: “We often see cases where young people or children have attended their GP with leg pain and been diagnosed with a simple musculoskeletal strain or injury even though they may not have suffered any impact or undertaken any sport recently to account for their pain.
“It seems all too easy to put these symptoms down to ‘growing pains’ when a simple x-ray could make a definitive diagnosis and allow early treatment to begin. It may not be easy for GPs to diagnose primary bone cancers when the symptoms are so non-specific and to decide where further investigation is needed but, if they can recognise the possibility and refer for further investigations, the condition could be diagnosed much sooner.”