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