Blog: Dr Paul Brennan - How can we cut delays to brain tumour diagnosis?

When is a headache 'just a headache' and when could it signal a brain tumour?

That's just one of the questions we need to answer to help make sure GPs know when to refer a patient for an urgent scan.

At Edinburgh University, my team and I are working on a project funded by The Brain Tumour Charity to investigate why some people experience delays to their brain tumour diagnosis.

These delays are understandably frustrating for patients and their families, adding to the stress of the diagnosis itself.

This impacts quality of life and can also affect relationships with the medical team. We want to reduce these delays so that treatment can start earlier and hopefully be more effective.

The project officially got under way at the beginning of the year. We are collaborating with colleagues in Bristol and Exeter to examine a large amount of information about patients' experiences at every stage from first onset of symptoms, to GP assessment, referral to secondary care, investigation and finally diagnosis.

Our aim is to identify common factors that could help reduce delays.

We have put together a group of simple tests that can be performed quickly in the GP consultation and we will be trialling this strategy over the coming months. If we can demonstrate that this speeds up diagnosis then these tests can be rolled out all around the country.

In Edinburgh we are fortunate to have a strong team of clinicians and scientists working together on brain tumour research.

We believe the key to improving the outcome for patients living with brain tumours is to tackle the disease on many fronts.

For example, we are working on cells from tumour tissue donated by patients to understand how tumours originate so that we can develop improved drugs.

We are also designing new ways of giving drugs to reduce side effects so that they can be taken for longer. In the clinic our research includes understanding more about fatigue in people living with brain tumours and how these symptoms can be best managed or even overcome.

Without the support of patients, their families and carers, much of this work would not be possible. These people give their time, ideas, data and tissue, which form the core of most research.

Fundraising is another key ingredient and as beneficiaries of this money we are grateful to everyone who puts their time and effort into supporting our work and that of many others.

That's why my team and I will be supporting #WearItOut on Bandanas for Brain Tumours Day, Friday 4 March.