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Br J Gen Pract. 2012 Jul;62(600):e458-65. doi: 10.3399/bjgp12X652319.

Presenting symptoms of children with cancer: a primary-care population-based study.

Author information

1
Section for General Practice, Department of Public Health, Research Centre for Cancer Diagnosis in Primary Care, Aarhus University, Denmark. jette.ahrensberg@alm.au.dk

Abstract

BACKGROUND:

Knowledge of how children with cancer present in general practice is sparse. Timely referral from general practice is important to ensure early diagnosis.

AIM:

To investigate the presenting symptoms and GPs' interpretations of symptoms of children with cancer.

DESIGN AND SETTING:

A Danish nationwide population-based study including children (<15 years) with an incident cancer diagnosis (January 2007 to December 2010).

METHOD:

A questionnaire on symptoms and their interpretation was mailed to GPs (n=363). Symptoms were classified according to the International Classification of Primary Care (ICPC)-2 classification.

RESULTS:

GPs' response rate was 87% (315/363) and GPs were involved in the diagnostic process of 253 (80.3%) children. Symptoms were few (2.4 per child) and most fell into the category 'general and unspecified' (71.9%), apart from patients with tumours of the central nervous system (CNS), whose symptoms fell mostly in the category 'neurological' (for example, headache). Symptoms like pain, swelling/lump, or fatigue were reported in 25% of the patients and they were the most commonly reported symptoms. GPs interpreted children's symptoms as alarm symptoms in 20.2%, as serious (that is, not alarm) symptoms in 52.9%, and as vague symptoms in 26.9%. GPs' interpretation varied significantly by diagnosis (P<0.001).

CONCLUSION:

Children with cancer presented with few symptoms in general practice, of which most were 'general and unspecified' symptoms. Only 20% presented alarm symptoms, while 27% presented vague and non-specific symptoms. This low level of alarm symptoms may influence the time from symptom presentation in general practice to final diagnosis.

PMID:
22781993
PMCID:
PMC3381271
DOI:
10.3399/bjgp12X652319
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

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