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‘Red flags’ poor guide to child cancers

GPs should not rely on ‘red flag' symptoms for cancer in children as only one in five cases will present with them, according to Danish researchers.

The retrospective analysis used data from GP questionnaires looking at the symptoms in children they had assessed with a confirmed diagnosis of cancer.

Of the 315 children whose symptoms were included in the study, only 20% had symptoms that were interpreted by GPs as red flags, such as weight loss or a lump/swelling.

The proportion of red flags was highest in those with leukaemia, with 44% of children deemed as presenting with these symptoms, and lowest in bone tumours at 6%.

A greater proportion of children in the 10 to 14 year age bracket presented with red flag symptoms compared with those in the five to nine and zero to four age brackets – 28%, 19% and 15% respectively – suggesting increasing red flag presentations with increasing age.

The authors from Aarhus University, Denmark, said: ‘This study emphasises the need to obtain a detailed medical history of children presenting with vague symptoms or persistent symptoms like pain, fatigue and swelling.'

Br J Gen Pract, available online 25 June 2012

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