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Br J Cancer. 2013 Apr 2;108(6):1280-7. doi: 10.1038/bjc.2013.88. Epub 2013 Feb 28.

Childhood cancer and factors related to prolonged diagnostic intervals: a Danish population-based study.

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Research Unit for General Practice, Aarhus University, Bartholins Allé 2, 8000 Aarhus, Denmark.



Early diagnosis of childhood cancer provides hope for better prognoses. Shorter diagnostic intervals (DI) in primary care require better knowledge of the association between presenting symptoms, interpretation of symptoms and the wording of the referral letter.


A Danish nationwide population-based study. Data on 550 children aged <15 years with an incident cancer diagnosis (January 2007-December 2010) were collected through questionnaires to parents (response rate=69%) and general practitioners (GPs) (response rate=87%). The DI from the first presentation in general practice until diagnosis was categorised as short or long based on quartiles. Associations between variables and long DIs were assessed using logistic regression.


The GPs interpreted symptoms as 'vague' in 25.4%, 'serious' in 50.0% and 'alarm' in 19.0% of cases. Symptom interpretation varied by cancer type (P<0.001) and was associated with the DI (P<0.001). Vomiting was associated with a shorter DI for central nervous system (CNS) tumours, and pain with a longer DI for leukaemia. Referral letter wording was associated with DI (P<0.001); the shortest DIs were observed when cancer suspicion was raised in the letter.


The GPs play an important role in recognising early signs of childhood cancer as their symptom interpretation and referral wording have a profound impact on the diagnostic process.

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