One quarter of all childhood cancers occur in the brain – 10 children and young people are diagnosed with a brain tumour each week in the UK – and they are the biggest cancer killer of children and young people.
Early diagnosis can save lives and reduce long-term disability but the average (median) time between symptom onset and diagnosis (symptom interval or SI) is longer in the UK than in many other countries.
‘HeadSmart: be brain tumour aware’ is a publicity and awareness campaign developed to bring about earlier diagnosis and improved outcomes. Against the primary goal of a reduction of symptom interval, the evaluation results showed a reduction in the median length of time to diagnose childhood brain tumours from 14.4 weeks to 7.5 weeks within a year of launch of the initiative. The latest figures to May 2013 have shown a further fall to 6.9 weeks.
The UK performs poorer than many countries when it comes to the length of time to diagnose brain cancer in children. HeadSmart: be brain tumour aware is an initiative produced by the Brain Tumour Charity to address this issue.
Previously published reports showed there had been no reduction in the UK between the time taken from symptom onset to diagnosis (14.4 weeks) in two decades, yet many other comparable countries were reporting much shorter intervals (as little as five weeks).
Delayed diagnosis puts children at risk of increased life-long disabilities and poorer survival rates. Government initiatives had failed to improve the speed of diagnosis and the children and young people who take the longest time to be diagnosed make multiple visits to healthcare services before their tumours are discovered.
The need for a targeted, creative and innovative initiative involving both the public and healthcare professionals was clear, so the charity launched its campaign with four objectives. These were to:
- Reduce the reported median time from symptom to diagnosis from 14.4 weeks to less than 10 weeks, and ultimately to five weeks
- Achieve prompted awareness of 10 per cent among the public of the HeadSmart campaign
- Achieve prompted awareness of over 50 per cent among healthcare staff
- Achieve a 10 per cent increase in the confidence of paediatricians to diagnose brain tumours.
To meet these goals the team needed to develop evidence-based clinical guidelines requiring national funding, and a campaign to disseminate these guidelines to the profession and the public. It had to promote and distribute age-appropriate guidance, design a support website and launch a smartphone app to help parents and healthcare professionals identify those children and young people who require an urgent or timely scan.
The charity also needed to align the campaign with national health priorities across the UK by targeting GP surgeries, health authorities and primary care trusts for their help in raising awareness of the campaign. To achieve this a clinical champion network was created and community champions were recruited to circulate materials and drive local press coverage and attended conferences, workshops and meetings to raise awareness of HeadSmart.
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