Cancer Care: Young Adults — [Ian Paisley in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:00 pm on 8th June 2022.

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Photo of Julie Marson Julie Marson Conservative, Hertford and Stortford 4:00 pm, 8th June 2022

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I will go on to talk about the danger of not expecting to find symptoms of cancer in children and young adults, and the terrible consequences that delays and misdiagnoses can have, as they did in Jess’s case—it is too often the case.

I want to talk about Jess, because to understand how important this is, and why the Brady family are so committed to this approach, it is important that I tell Jess’s story. In mid-2020, Jess was feeling unwell with abdominal and back discomfort. It was during the pandemic, and Jess was given an online consultation at her GP surgery, and prescribed antibiotics for a suspected kidney infection. Over the ensuing weeks she was prescribed numerous other medications, including more antibiotics and steroids. Jess contacted her surgery on more than 20 occasions in five months. None of the four GPs who provided her with a consultation—17 of which were conducted remotely—took her symptoms seriously. Her requests for blood tests were granted, but a raised D-dimer was dismissed after a preliminary scan, and not investigated further. Blood results showing poor liver function were left for a six-week follow-up review, which proved fatal.

Jess was told for months that she was suffering from long covid, despite two negative coronavirus tests. She was finally diagnosed with cancer following a private referral on 26 November. Her dependency on oxygen from that date meant that she did not leave the hospital or ever return home. Jess discovered that she had stage 4 adenocarcinoma with an unknown primary. It had spread throughout her body to her spine, liver, stomach, lungs and lymph nodes. Jess was a talented satellite engineer for Airbus. She had so much potential and so much life to live. Her loss has shattered her family’s world.

Devastatingly, had someone taken the initiative to closely review Jess’s case and examine the evidence, cancer screening would have been an obvious requirement. A consultant recently said to her parents:

“If a diagnosis cannot be made from initial tests then not enough tests are being carried out”.

In Jess’s case, a request to be referred to an ear, nose and throat specialist was laughed off. Letters written to the surgery listing her symptoms, including dramatic weight loss and vomiting, were ignored. Jess felt powerless and distressed. She tried so hard to be heard and taken seriously. It was heartbreaking for her family to watch her deterioration.

It is obvious really, but when people are desperately ill and at their lowest ebb, they do not possess the stamina to fight the system—nor should they have to. Jess’s age was a key issue. Many people, including GPs, do not expect to see, as Mark Tami said, a young adult with cancer, and that affects their diagnostic processes and judgment.