On Thursday 7th December, SNP MSP for Cunninghame South, Ruth Maguire, took part in a debate focused on raising awareness of the signs and symptoms of brain tumours.

Brain tumours are the biggest cancer killer of children and adults under the age of 40 in Scotland, reducing life expectancy by 20 years on average – the highest of any cancer.

Although progress has been made, the treatment for and understanding of brain tumours still lags behind that relating to more common cancers and there is a real need to improve outcomes for patients.

The UK-wide campaign, HeadSmart, has demonstrated the difference that can be made through national awareness raising. Based on the Diagnosis of Brain Tumours in Children guidance produced in 2007, HeadSmart is a public facing campaign which focuses on raising awareness of the signs and symptoms of brain tumours in children and young people.

Through educating both the public and healthcare professionals– the campaign has succeeded in saving countless lives and in markedly reducing long-term disabilities.

Before 2007, average diagnosis times for children with brain tumours in the UK was 13 weeks. Four years after the publication of the guidance for healthcare professionals, this was reduced to 9.1 weeks – with the most recent average diagnosis times further reduced to 6.5 weeks. The goal now is to get this down to 4 weeks.

The Scottish Government is also taking steps to improve outcomes for cancer patients, including those with brain tumours. In June 2016, the first Scottish Cancer Patient Experience Survey was published by the Scottish Government in partnership with Macmillan Cancer Support. The survey provides a strong insight into the experience of cancer patients across Scotland, highlighting areas of good practice as well as areas for improvement.

Responding to this, in September of this year, the Health Secretary announced the formation of a Ministerial Cancer Peformance Delivery Group to drive forward improvements in waiting times for diagnosis and treatment for cancer patients in Scotland – supported by £1 million of new funding. An additional £3 million was also announced to increase the number of radiology trainees in Scotland by at least fifty over the next five years.

Commenting, Ruth said:

“This debate was fundamentally about raising awareness of the signs and symptoms of brain tumours – and the importance of doing this can’t be over-stated.

It really is a matter of life and death.

I’m sure that I wasn’t alone in being shocked by some of the statistics and stories I read about in preparation for the debate.

Such as that nearly one third of people visit a healthcare professional more than five times before being diagnosed. And that 37% of patients with brain tumours in Scotland went straight to hospital for diagnosis, compared to 9% of all cancer patients in 2016.

This is because of a lack of understanding amongst both the general public and healthcare professionals – which means that brain tumours can often go unidentified and undiagnosed for a long time.

When they are finally diagnosed, it is often too late to treat them effectively, with the result that the patient detoriates and dies rapidly.

This can and must be improved.

The UK-wide HeadSmart campaign demonstrated how much of a difference can be made simply by raising awareness.

And supported by strong Scottish Government investment to improve diagnosis and treatment, I am confident that we will continue to improve outcomes for brain tumour patients.”