Bone cancer diagnosis 'needs to be improved'

8 October 2012

A charity has urged for GPs and medical practitioners to speed up referrals for x-rays for people who are exhibiting symptoms that suggest they may have bone cancer.

This is one of the conclusions coming from the Bone Cancer Research Trust (BCRT), which said that this aggressive and rare form of cancer is often misdiagnosed as growing pains.

The charity was speaking after a new report from the national Cancer Intelligence Network found that referral rates between primary care trusts in England varied significantly.

According to the report, "the rate of referral will vary from one type of cancer to another, and will be influenced by the age structure and cancer risk profile of the population".

Primary bone cancer, as it is known, is so rare that on average, 380 people are diagnosed with the cancer every year in England. It usually affects parts of the arms and legs, though it can also appear in the pelvis, the spine and the skull.

Primary bone cancer refers to the growth of a tumour inside a bone – secondary bone cancer starts from another part of the body.

Unlike other cancers, however, where five-year survival rates have improved since the 1980s, osteosarcoma figures remain relatively unchanged for over a quarter of a century.

Only 42 per cent of people with osteosarcoma, the most common form of the cancer, will survive for five years after being diagnosed. It usually affects children and young adults.

"Primary bone cancer symptoms can include painful bones or swollen joints, and this can easily be misdiagnosed by GPs as a sporting injury or growing pains," commented Dr Harriet Unsworth, information and research officer at the BCRT.

"Many children and young adults have had to make several visits to their GP over many months before they are finally sent for an X-ray, or referred to a specialist. That can have a huge impact on their chances of survival."

She added that this implies that there is clear need to improve GPs' awareness of primary bone cancer so that a speedy diagnosis can be made.

The NHS states that the most common symptom of this cancer is a pain in the bone that worsens over time and tends to feel more severe during the night.

Treatment for bone cancer involves chemotherapy to shrink the tumour, which is then followed by surgery to remove the bone that has been damaged. Historically, a section of the limb had to be removed, but today, a metal implant replaces the absent section of the bone.

"We are committed to saving an extra 5,000 lives every year through early diagnosis of cancer," commented a spokeswoman from the Department of Health.

"We need to encourage people to recognise the symptoms and signs of cancer and seek advice from their doctor as soon as possible. We also need doctors to recognise these symptoms and when needed refer people urgently for specialist care."

Posted by Jeanette Royston

Health News is provided by Adfero in collaboration with Spire Healthcare. Please note that all copy above is ©Adfero Ltd. and does not reflect views or opinions of Spire Healthcare unless explicitly stated. Additional comments on the page from individual Spire consultants do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of other consultants or Spire Healthcare.

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