Tuesday 23rd September 2014


Young people put off going to the doctors because they are embarrassed or worried the doctor will think they are stupid according to new research by Teenage Cancer Trust. The charity has marked the start of Teenage Cancer Action Week (22 to 28 September) with a call to schools to speak to students about the signs of cancer and build young people’s confidence to seek help if they are worried about their health.

The charity surveyed over 1,000 young people aged 13-18 about their attitudes to going to the doctor. They found a third (33%) said they found it difficult to speak to doctors about their health worries and of that number nearly half (42%) said they had difficulty expressing themselves or describing what was wrong. A third (31%) were scared the doctor would think they were stupid, whilst a further third (32%) said they were worried that they might be wasting the doctor's time.

The research also found a fifth (21%) have put off going to the doctors due to lack of available appointments, whilst a further fifth (20%) haven’t visited because they were embarrassed. Teenage Cancer Trust also found that nearly a third (28%) of young people only go to the doctors if they perceive it to be urgent, whilst others (39%) hoped the problem would go away.

The findings that young people are not comfortable visiting and speaking to doctors supports a previous report that over a third of young people with cancer (37%) are diagnosed through admission to accident and emergency. Diagnosis through A&E is associated with poorer prognosis and poorer care experience. Historically Teenage Cancer Trust has found that around half of all young people with cancer will attend their GP three times or more with cancer symptoms before referral for tests.

The signs of cancer in young people are easily missed because they are similar to other less harmful problems. Common misdiagnoses include infections, sports injuries and exam stress.

Jane Sutton is Stephen Sutton’s mum. Stephen died of cancer earlier this year after inspiring the nation with his incredibly positive attitude, raising £5 million for Teenage Cancer Trust. Jane said:

It is really important that young people are taught the signs of cancer at school. Stephen experienced significant issues being diagnosed, and who knows what a difference an earlier diagnosis could have made. Unfortunately, this situation is not unique to Stephen and many young people with cancer have similar problems being diagnosed. We must do all we can to stop this happening to others. Students need to be taught the five most common signs of cancer and they must be given the confidence to go to the doctors, and to keep on going back, if they feel their diagnosis isn’t right. I’d love to see all schools getting behind Teenage Cancer Action week.

Siobhan Dunn, Chief Executive of Teenage Cancer Trust said:

Your doctor will have seen and heard it all before so there really is no need to feel embarrassed. It’s really important to speak up if something feels wrong or you are worried about your health. Sometimes you have to visit your doctor more than once to get the right diagnosis, so don’t be afraid to go back. If everyone knows the signs of cancer in young people and shares that knowledge with friends and family, together we could make a huge difference and help save lives.

Teenage Cancer Action Week runs from 22 to 28 September.

The five most common signs of cancer in young people aged 13 to 24 are persistent and unexplained:

  • Lump, bump or swelling
  • Pain
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Significant weight loss
  • Changes in a mole


Notes to editors

For press enquiries please contact the Teenage Cancer Trust media team:

Teenage Cancer Trust Teenage Cancer Trust is the only UK charity dedicated to improving the quality of life and chances of survival for the seven young people aged between 13 and 24 diagnosed with cancer every day. The charity builds specialist units within NHS hospitals that bring young people together to be treated by teenage cancer experts in a place designed just for them.

Teenage Cancer Trust wants every young person with cancer to have access to the best possible care and professional support from the point of diagnosis, no matter where they live. Traditionally treated alongside children or elderly patients at the end of their lives, young people can feel extremely isolated during cancer treatment, some never meeting another young person with cancer. Being treated alongside others their own age by experts in teenage and young adult cancer care, can make a huge difference to a young person’s experience.

Teenage Cancer Trust relies on donations to fund all of its vital work.