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Jenny Jones

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A guide to making a No Win No Fee brain tumour claim

Although less common than many other cancers, information from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows there has been a steady increase in brain cancer incidence in the UK over the last 32 years - by 23% for men and 25% for women.

Cancer Research UK's figures state that as many as 26 people per day may be diagnosed with brain, other central nervous system (CNS) and intracranial tumours.

What are brain tumours?

Masses of cells that can be benign or malignant, brain tumours are graded from 1 to 4, with grade 1 and 2 tumours being classified as benign - slow growing and unlikely to spread.

Grade 3 and 4 tumours are likely to malignant - the majority caused by secondary cancers - i.e. those that started somewhere else in the body and spread to the brain, through the bloodstream.

Although benign brain tumours are not cancerous, they are still serious and may be life threatening. Primary brain tumours, although less common than secondary, may be a consequence of benign tumours that were misdiagnosed or not treated properly.

Who is at risk of developing a brain tumour?

Despite substantial research, the causes of brain tumours are not well understood and so far links to major lifestyle or other risk factors have only been established in less than 1% of cases.

People of all ages (including children) may be affected. Risk increases with age, with most tumours affecting people over 50. Brain tumours associated with certain genetic conditions tend to develop in childhood or early adulthood.

Previous radiotherapy treatment to the head may increase the risk of a brain tumour developing later in life.

Although it is reported that the use of mobile phones may relate to higher risk of developing brain tumours, the evidence is unclear.

What are the symptoms of a brain tumour?

Symptoms are caused by pressure on the brain from the tumour and by it preventing specific areas of the brain from functioning properly. They depend on its size and location and may include:

  • Severe, persistent headaches - typically worse in the morning or when bending over or coughing
  • Seizures (fits) - which may affect the whole body or just involve a twitch in one area
  • Persistent nausea, vomiting and drowsiness
  • Mental or behavioural changes, such as memory problems or changes in personality
  • Progressive weakness or paralysis on one side of the body, or speech problems
  • Vision problems - such as blurred vision, floaters and loss of vision that may come and go

Slow-growing tumours may not cause any symptoms at first.

What happens if a brain tumour is suspected?

Anyone suspecting they may have a brain tumour should see his GP immediately. The GP should assess the patient before referring him to a specialist. 

The specialist will conduct further tests to examine the nervous system for any abnormalities. These may include tests on:

  • Hearing and vision
  • Balance and co-ordination
  • Mental agility such as simple arithmetic

These should be followed up with advanced scans - such as CT (computerised tomography), MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) and EEG (electroencephalogram).

If a tumour is found then a biopsy may be performed to remove tissue for analysis to establish the type of tumour and the best method to treat it.

For the best possible prognosis is it vital to treat a brain tumour as early as possible. 

What happens if the tests are not conducted?

Where symptoms are ignored or dismissed as having another cause (such as migraine for instance), and tests not carried out, the tumour may be undiagnosed and therefore not treated.

Delays are particularly significant when dealing with benign tumours. The prognosis is improved when tumours are small and more easily removed. If a surgeon is only able to partially remove a more deep seated tumour, the remaining tissue may cause a recurrence. 

An undetected benign tumour may become malignant and spread to damage other parts of the brain and spinal cord. 

Can a case be brought for medical negligence for misdiagnosis of a brain tumour?

Where a doctor has failed to investigate, diagnose (or misdiagnose) or correctly treat a brain tumour, the delay in treatment may cause undue suffering to a patient.

To bring a successful claim for clinical negligence it is necessary to show that the delay in diagnosis has resulted in a worse outcome.

Sometimes a patient may be incorrectly diagnosed with having a brain tumour, when his illness is something less severe. A claim for misdiagnosis may be brought where the patient has sustained the psychological stress of believing themselves to have cancer. There may also be financial losses incurred due to time off work for tests and treatment.

Other reading: Report highlights unacceptable delays in cancer diagnosis