One Sunday evening in 2008, after giving her one-year-old daughter a bath, Ruth Hillman noticed Georgia’s tummy felt firmer than usual.
Alarm bells began to ring.
By Wednesday, after seeing several different doctors, Ruth and her husband Ben were told Georgia had a tumour. Further tests showed that it was a Wilms’ tumour – a form of kidney cancer – and Georgia needed intensive treatment.
Georgia’s story is ultimately a happy one – she’s now a healthy five-year-old, and recently started school. Her treatment – surgery and chemotherapy – means she’s among some 33,000 people alive in the UK today who beat cancer in childhood. Although progress in some cancer types has been slow, overall survival rates are now at an all-time high.
But could they be even higher? In the end, Georgia was diagnosed in time, but others aren’t so fortunate. And, as in adults, cancer treatments in children are generally less effective when the disease is spotted late.
They’re also often more intense. As a result, survivors can have long-term disabilities – and with more lives being saved, this has meant an ever-greater focus on how we manage cancers in the youngest members of society.
The problem is that cancers in children are rare, and their symptoms are hard to tell apart from a whole range of more common problems. The average GP will only ever see a single case in their entire career – if at all. And for parents, they may never suspect that an ache or a pain could be something more sinister than childhood’s day-to-day rough and tumble.
In this blog post, we’ll take a look at the issues surrounding spotting cancers in children, and what’s going on to try to improve things.