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Women with brain cancer face unacceptable delays in diagnosis

Charity says almost one in three patients saw GPs five times before diagnosis

Mark Gould

Monday, 11 January 2016

Women with brain tumours are more than twice as likely as men to face unacceptable delays in getting a diagnosis according to a new report for the Brain Tumour Charity.

The report, Finding Myself in Your Hands: the Reality of Brain Tumour Treatment and Care, found that almost one in three brain tumour patients visited a doctor more than five times before diagnosis, and nearly a quarter waited more than a year for it.

The report also found that patients from low-income families with a household income under £20,000 were more likely to face delays in being diagnosed.

More than half of the 1,004 respondents to a survey for the report did not believe the NHS gave brain tumours the attention they deserved.

One woman was told on at least her fifth visit to a GP: “No, you don’t need a brain scan, you’re just really tired,” even after a nurse friend said her symptoms, including memory loss and personality change, were consistent with brain pressure. She collapsed, a scan revealed a brain tumour the size of a fist, and she was advised to say goodbye to her family – before surgeons at Addenbrooke’s hospital in Cambridgeshire successfully operated.

Another woman was given antidepressants, sleep charts and analgesia over many visits before her low-grade tumour was diagnosed. Another, also with a low-grade tumour, spent three years trying to get a diagnosis. “On every hospital admission they accused me of attention-seeking, and on one admission they thought I was on illegal drugs.”

The report recommends that NICE should update the Referral guidelines for suspected cancer, and Healthcare Improvement Scotland should update the Scottish referral guidelines for suspected cancer, on an ongoing basis as new evidence emerges on symptoms that are recurrent, or that occur in combination.

It also calls for improved awareness of symptoms amongst the general public and for all brain cancer patients to be provided with a care plan, in language appropriate to their needs, before they are discharged from hospital.

Sarah Lindsell, chief executive of the charity, said: “Our report shows that, overall, people with brain tumour symptoms often struggle to secure a diagnosis and we will continue our drive to address these problems.

“However, it appears that women tend to face a more difficult path than men when they seek help ... It is a worrying disparity and one that deserves further investigation.”

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