A third of young people with cancer diagnosed in A&E

The signs of cancer in many young people are not being recognised or acted upon by parents, doctors or young people themselves, according to research released by us to mark the start of Teenage Cancer Action Week.


Our recent research has found that close to a third (29%) of young cancer patients are being diagnosed when their health deteriorates to the point of being admitted to Accident & Emergency. Nearly a third of young patients (32%) had a poor diagnosis experience indicated by 3 or more visits to a GP before referral, and a quarter (24%) had been to a GP with symptoms but went to Accident & Emergency when symptoms got worse.

Our findings support the Department of Health’s National Cancer Patient Experience survey, which shows that 16 to 24 year olds are twice as likely as adult age groups to have 3 or more consultations with their GP prior to hospital referral.

Jo Redman, mother of Ella who died of osteosarcoma (bone cancer) aged 19, said:

It never occurred to us that our beautiful daughter Ella could have cancer. We thought her shoulder pain was nothing so didn’t push her to see a doctor. We never asked how long Ella had but we never expected her to be taken so soon. I wish I had been aware of the signs when Ella first said she was in pain… You must keep going back to the doctors if they’re not getting better.

Cancer in young people is hard to diagnose. With around 2,500 young people diagnosed a year, cancer is rare and therefore suspicion is low. The signs can also often be mistaken for other more common illnesses. Knowing the signs of cancer in young people could help save a life and make a significant difference to a young person cancer journey.

Teenage Cancer Action Week raises awareness of the signs of cancer in young people. We’re encouraging teachers to download a pack and talk to students about the signs of cancer and empower young people to be persistent at the doctors if health conditions aren’t getting better. 

The 5 most common signs of cancer in young people aged 13 to 24 are unexplained and persistent:

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

We want to work with GPs and develop tools to encourage young people to go to the doctors and support GPs in the diagnosis of cancer in 13 to 24 year olds.

Former teenage cancer patient, Jess Terry, 19, who had Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, said:

I felt really unwell for nearly a year. I had a lump in my neck and felt constantly tired. My skin was unbearably itchy and I had night sweats. Looking at photos I’d lost loads of weight too, but I didn’t noticed at the time. I was diagnosed with stress and told I’d feel better if I put my mind to it. It took 8 months for me to be diagnosed with cancer. It’s so important for everyone to be more aware of the signs and for young people to be persistent with the doctors if they are not getting any better.

Siobhan Dunn, Chief Executive of Teenage Cancer Trust said: “Teenage Cancer Trust is committed to supporting early diagnosis as set out in the new Cancer Strategy. We will be working with our NHS and Primary Care partners to improve awareness and diagnosis of cancer in young people. Young people must be educated about the signs of cancer to ensure they seek help early and we need to work with GPs to try and develop a safe system for quick diagnosis.”

Dr Angel Edgar, National Cancer Research Institute Teenage and Young Adult Clinical Studies Group Chair, said: “Delay in diagnosis in teenagers and young adults with cancer may be one factor contributing to the lower reduction in cancer mortality rates compared with children or older adults in recent years. Early detection, clearly defined referral pathways and equitable access to specialist services will avoid delays and enable treatment to start as promptly as possible… By working together with partnership organisations, patients and raising awareness we can improve outcomes for young people with cancer.”