Guidelines to speed up diagnosis of brain tumours in children

Scientists at Birmingham Children’s Hospital and the Universities of Nottingham and Southampton have developed new guidelines that should help doctors to diagnose brain tumours in children more quickly.

At present, children may feel unwell for months before they are diagnosed with a brain tumour. Two recent studies found that UK children with brain tumours may face a 2.5-month or 3.5-month wait before they receive a diagnosis. This delay means they are more likely to develop life-threatening complications and experience vision loss and other neurological problems.

The team had previously published a literature review and meta-analysis, along with a study of children newly diagnosed with brain cancer. These publications provided information on the signs, symptoms and progression of brain tumours in children and were used as the basis on which to develop the new guidelines.

In their latest study, the team organised a workshop of 20 healthcare professionals and parents of children with brain tumours. Together they devised new statements describing the signs and symptoms of brain tumours, factors that could be used to tell the difference between brain tumours and other less serious conditions, and the process doctors should follow if they suspect a child has a brain tumour.

These statements were then tested by a panel of health specialists in a ‘virtual’ focus group – 156 took part, with 88 completing all three rounds.

This resulted in final guidelines containing 76 recommendations on the signs and symptoms of childhood brain tumours, assessment of children with possible brain cancer, and whether and when to carry out central nervous system imaging.

Publishing details of the guideline in the Archives of Disease in Childhood, the researchers wrote: “Implementation of this guideline may support clinicians in the identification and timely imaging of children with brain tumours. This may reduce the morbidity currently experienced by many children with brain tumours.”

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