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The need to improve survival rates for brain tumour patients and the challenges ahead to keep awareness a priority

By Juanita Cumberland, an expert medical negligence lawyer at Irwin Mitchell

There has been much in the news recently about brain tumours following the death of Tom Parker, a singer with The Wanted. Tom died of a brain tumour at the age of 33. He is survived by his wife and two young children.

The NHS say that more than 11,000 people are diagnosed with a primary brain tumour in the UK each year, of which about half are cancerous. Many others are diagnosed with a secondary brain tumour.  

The symptoms of brain tumours

Brain tumours cause a range of symptoms including: seizures, headaches, persistently feeling sick, being sick and drowsiness, mental or behavioural changes, progressive weakness or paralysis on one side of the body and vision or speech problems.

Yet Brain Tumour Research reveals that only one per cent of the national spend on cancer research has been allocated to brain tumours. This is despite Cancer Research UK’s view that: "although survival rates for most cancers have shown an encouraging upward trend, the fearsome complexity of the brain, and the plethora of different disease subtypes, has left brain tumour survival languishing at the bottom of the table."

Will the new 'war on cancer' help?

Will the government’s new ‘War on Cancer’ help?  Dr Karen Noble, Director of Research at Brain Tumour Research, welcomed the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care’s launch in February and commented: "At Brain Tumour Research we welcome the ambitions of the Secretary of State as laid out but, as with most strategic announcements, the devil is in the detail and that is where I feel our disease area remains a poor relation.  

"Clearly cancer prevention is a key goal and where risk factors can be identified then public health education is vital. Where does that leave us if no risk factors are identified? It is only around four in 10 cancer cases that are caused by preventable risk factors – for brain tumours we don’t yet understand the causes let alone how to prevent them.  

"The answer to that lies in greater understanding of the disease because before public health advice comes scientific research.  

"With inequalities in the health economy – brain tumours are no respecter of health, wealth, background or geographical boundaries. They are indiscriminate and more complex for that reason and so must be treated as a cancer that poses unique problems. Our 2021 Stop the Devastation Report called on the Government to introduce a new levelling up brain tumour research fund of £105 million."

Raising awareness of the impact of brain tumours

At the start of Brain Tumour Awareness last month, former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt MP raised the issue in a question to current Health Secretary Sajid Javid in the House of Commons.  Jeremy Hunt’s mother recently died from a brain tumour, as did MP Tessa Jowell,  and he asked that brain tumours be made a priority for research. 

Sajid Javid replied: "I once again express my condolences to my Right Honourable friend for his loss. He is absolutely right to raise this issue and the need for more research. That is one of the reasons why, back in 2018, we announced £40 million of extra research funding over the next five years. I can tell him that some £9 million of that has already been committed to 10 projects. In addition, the Tessa Jowell Brain Matrix is an exciting new trials platform that will give people with brain cancer access to trials of treatments that are best suited for their individual tumours."

One way to keep brain tumour awareness a priority all year round is for people to email their MPs to keep asking questions about what the government is doing to increase research into brain tumours and improve outcomes for brain tumour patients. 

Find out more about Irwin Mitchell's expertise in supporting people and their families following a cancer diagnosis at our dedicated cancer claims section.

More than £15,000 has been donated to a fundraiser set up by Kelsey Parker, widow of The Wanted star Tom Parker.

Mrs Parker started the GoFundMe page on Saturday to "keep Tom's memory alive forever", saying that proceeds would go to "amazing causes in Tom's name, to help others in need".

Parker was diagnosed with a brain tumour in October 2020, and he died surrounded by family and friends on 30 March this year, aged 33.”