Experts from Newcastle University have been part of a European project which compared statistics for more than 1,500 children diagnosed with the condition and treated in the UK and Germany between 2002 and 2011.
Researchers looked at patients’ records to see how tumours were detected in 360 children from Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary, Great Ormond Street Hospital and Royal Marsden Hospital. Findings are published in the journal, Archives of Disease in Childhood.
The Cancer Research UK-funded study found that Wilms’ tumours diagnosed in the United Kingdom were one and a half times bigger than those diagnosed in Germany.
More than half of children in the UK and three-quarters of German children were diagnosed with early stage tumours, but in the UK almost twice as many children were diagnosed at a late stage.
Study arose from work done in Newcastle
Professor Sir Alan Craft, Emeritus Professor at Newcastle University’s Northern Institute for Cancer Research, said: “This study arose out of work which I did at Newcastle. It is a very important study showing for the first time that the primary healthcare system for children in Germany is superior to that which we give to children in the UK.
“The simple message is that children with Wilms’ tumour are diagnosed later and require more intensive treatment- the outcome is not quite as good.
“We hope that this paper will stimulate a critical look at how we provide primary care for children in the UK.”
The researchers predict that children in the UK are diagnosed at a later stage than those in Germany as a result of the different childhood healthcare systems in both countries.
In the UK, GPs are the first port of call if a parent is concerned about their child and there are few routine medical checks after children reach six weeks old. When a parent takes their child to the GP with symptoms of Wilms’ tumour GP’s refer quickly to hospital paediatricians. In Germany, children are looked after by paediatricians who work in the community and there are many more routine health checks in early childhood.
The researchers suggest that because German children are more likely to receive full examinations by paediatricians they are more likely to have their Wilms’ tumour picked up at an early stage.
Common type of kidney cancer
Wilms’ tumour is the most common type of kidney cancer in children and affects one in every 10,000 children with 80 youngsters diagnosed with the disease in the UK each year.
Treatment is generally successful, with nine out of 10 children surviving their cancer. But, if the tumour is diagnosed at an advanced stage the child will need more treatment, including radiotherapy and more intensive chemotherapy. These carry a greater risk of causing life-long side-effects than the treatment needed by children diagnosed with early stage tumours.
Professor Pamela Kearns, Cancer Research UK’s children’s cancers expert, said: “On average a GP will only see one new case of cancer in a young person every 12 years or more. It’s crucial that there’s better awareness of children’s cancers in the community and that suspected cases are referred quickly so they can be diagnosed and treated as soon as possible. Ideally tumours need to be picked up at an earlier stage to avoid side-effects of more complicated treatments.
“Many children who survive cancer will live with the long-term side-effects of their treatment that can have an impact throughout their adult lives, so it’s vital that we find ways to diagnose and treat sooner as well as finding less toxic and even more effective treatments.”
Researchers from Newcastle University, University College London (UCL), Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children, the Netherlands Cancer Institute and University Hospital Homburg all contributed to the study.
Press release adapted with thanks from Cancer Research UK
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