Wording used by GPs can impact child cancer diagnosis

The wording used by GPs in a hospital referral letter may have a "significant" impact on the time it takes to diagnose a child with cancer, new research suggests.

If a GP uses the term "cancer" rather than "serious illness" children are likely to be diagnosed more quickly, according to the study, published in the British Journal of Cancer.

Wording used by GPs can impact child cancer diagnosis, research suggests. Credit: Rolf Vennenbernd/DPA/Press Association Images

And if a general practitioner interprets symptoms as indicating "alarm" or "serious illness", the diagnosis will be speedier than if they interpret the symptoms as "vague".

The authors, who examined questionnaires completed by 377 parents of children with cancer and 315 GPs in Denmark, found that for leukaemia - the most common childhood cancer - reference in the GP notes to fatigue, anaemia or bruising was associated with a shorter time to diagnosis.

Sara Hiom, Cancer Research UK's director of early diagnosis, added: "This study provides evidence that when GPs suspect cancer and say so explicitly in referral letters their concerns can contribute to a faster diagnosis.

"Importantly, this research identifies key symptoms, which, when mentioned, speed up the crucial specialist investigations needed for a diagnosis of childhood cancer. The challenge is to accelerate diagnosis when the symptoms are less specific."