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26 February 2015

TYA team secure funding for young people’s cancer study

A pioneering research project on young people's cancer is soon to get underway at the Bristol Haematology and Oncology Centre (BHOC). The year-long project will see the team from the teenage and young adults (TYA) cancer service at the BHOC looking at the journey of young people with cancer through the healthcare system, from first presentation to diagnosis.

Mike Stevens, professor of paediatric oncology at University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust, explains: "Cancer is the leading medical cause of death in young people in the UK, accounting for over 25% of all deaths in the age group from 15 - 24 years. Approximately 2,000 individuals of this age are diagnosed with cancer each year in the UK and about 300 die from cancer each year.

"There has been concern for some time that cancer survival rates are not as good in the UK as in comparable European countries and a consistent theme that emerges is that, in the UK, the diagnosis point may be later than in Europe. Outcomes for some types of cancer in young people are also less than for the same diagnoses in either children or older adults, suggesting that young people may be particularly disadvantaged."

"A whole range of cancers present in young people, but as the numbers are much smaller than for adult cancers, this makes data analysis a great deal more challenging. A lot of work has been done to investigate diagnostic pathways in the more common types of adult cancer but, to date, very little work has focused specifically on young people's cancers."

By examining the journeys of the young people who come into the TYA service over the course of a year, the team will look at how young people with cancer present to their GPs and to hospitals. They will track their pathway through the healthcare system pre-diagnosis, and attempt to identify if there may have been a point where an earlier intervention could have been made.

Professor Stevens added: "In many cases when young people present with symptoms, cancer may not be the doctor's first thought as it is so rare. Young people tell us that it can often require multiple visits both to a GP and to hospital services before the diagnosis is suspected. Our work will try to provide an insight into any areas of missed opportunity, and if any are found, we will work with our colleagues in both primary and secondary care to look at the ways in which a gap could be filled. It's important we work together to do this, and to reassure patients that things are being done and that the NHS is taking notice of what they tell us."

The project came about after the government issued a call for bids to support work in improving the speed of diagnosis for all types of cancer under NHS England's ACE Programme. The Bristol TYA team was successful in obtaining £40,000 to fund this project for a year. The team's study is the only one funded by the scheme to be looking into young people's cancer.