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Long delays for teenage cancer diagnosis 'not rare'

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A young cancer patient had to wait ten months before medical staff correctly diagnosed him, a specialist nurse has warned.

‘It’s a worrying story, but unfortunately not a rare one,’ said Sam Smith, a nurse consultant at Manchester’s Christie Hospital.

The man’s eventual diagnosis with Hodgkin lymphoma was delayed by both the referral and the hospital system, she told delegates this week at the International Conference on Teenage and Young Adult Cancer Medicine.

‘The 20-year-old visited his GP with a painless swelling in the neck. The GP did the right thing and referred him straight away for an ultrasound, which showed abnormalities,’ she said.

‘The problems started with the referral pathway,’ she added. ‘His GP referred him to an ear, nose and throat team at a district general hospital and not to a cancer specialist.’

As a result the tests carried out were not able to identify a malignancy. However, his symptoms worsened and he was referred for a scan. Eventually, after a second opinion on the scan, an open biopsy of the neck lump was performed.

‘He was eventually given the diagnosis of Hodgkin lymphoma in January this year, ten months after the first onset of his symptoms,’ Ms Smith said. ‘It underlines the need for making referral pathways less complicated and to have specific pathways mapped out for suspected cancer.’

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