Two thirds of young people with cancer will visit their GP with at least one of the most common cancer symptoms – yet a third of these cases are missed by doctors, according to research.
One in four had to visit their doctor at least four times before they were taken seriously and referred to a specialist.
Lucy Parker, 17, from the Isle Of Man, was only diagnosed with a muscle tumour when her mother took her to hospital after she was turned away by her GP three times.
Of those who were at first misdiagnosed, 12 per cent were told they were attention seeking while 15 per cent were told they just had a virus.
Other misdiagnoses included telling patients they were suffering indigestion, vertigo or swine flu.
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.
Five of the most common symptoms and warning signs in youngsters are unexplained and persistent pain, a lump or swelling, extreme fatigue, significant weight loss or changes in a mole.
Researchers said their findings highlight ‘the serious issue of delayed diagnosis’ in the age group.
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.
Simon Davies, chief executive of Teenage Cancer Trust said: ‘We have been urging for cancer to be on the national curriculum for many years. We’re still waiting.
‘That’s why we’ve developed our own education team to help teachers tackle this difficult topic and created Teenage Cancer awareness week to help raise awareness of the five most common signs of cancer.
‘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.
‘The two week referral for suspected cancer is a major breakthrough but young people won’t benefit until GPs think cancer quicker.’