Survey shows worrying delay in diagnosing primary bone cancer

A survey undertaken by the Bone Cancer Research Trust (BCRT) has revealed a worrying delay in bone cancer patients receiving their diagnosis.

The survey of 394 primary bone cancer patients, survivors and bereaved families showed that one in four patients (26%) had waited over seven months before receiving a diagnosis – with 13% waiting over a year.

The data also revealed that a quarter of all patients (26%) made seven or more visits to their GP or other healthcare professional before receiving a diagnosis.

Bone Cancer Research Trust is calling on all GPs to take action and complete its free GP E-learning module, developed in partnership with the Royal College of General Practitioners. The module highlights ‘red flag’ symptoms they should be aware of and can be accessed anytime at www.bcrt.org.uk/gp

Zoe Davison, head of research and information at Bone Cancer Research Trust said: “We found the survey results worrying and we’re keen to ensure that the disease is diagnosed at the earliest opportunity. Medical students receive no formal training on primary bone cancer during their medical education so there can be a lack of awareness of the symptoms among GPs and other healthcare professionals. Our E-learning resource is a great way to address this, and those who’ve completed the module see a 70 per cent increase in their understanding of the symptoms that can present with this brutal form of cancer.”

Dr Philip Green, a GP and bone cancer survivor who had his leg amputated aged 17, said: “Primary bone cancer is often misdiagnosed, as symptoms can be easily mistaken for growing pains or other common medical conditions, such as tendonitis, arthritis or even sports injuries. It’s a rare cancer and a GP may never see a case in their entire career, but it’s crucial to spot it as quickly as possible because there aren’t many treatments available, and a delayed diagnosis makes it more likely they may require an amputation to stand a chance of survival.

“The E-learning module is great because it’s interactive, case-based and covers the presentations of bone cancer in primary care. GPs undertaking this module will be more likely to consider primary bone cancer as a potential diagnosis and to distinguish it from other musculoskeletal disorders.”

Primary bone cancer is a rare cancer, with 600 people diagnosed each year in the UK. Tumours can form in any bone in the body, although a third of cases are found in the long bones of the lower body, such as the thigh or shin bone. Patients are faced with a 5-year survival rate of just over 50% and this has barely improved in over 30 years.

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