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Psychiatric symptoms causing delay in diagnosing childhood cancer: two case reports and literature review

Journal title
European child & adolescent psychiatry
Publication year
Hensgens, T. B.; Bloemer, E.; Schouten-van Meeteren, A. Y.; Zwaan, C. M.; Van den Bos, C.; Huyser, C.; Kaspers, G. J.

INTRODUCTION: A somatic disorder may initially be overlooked when a child presents with psychiatric symptoms. We report two children with anorexia nervosa as initial diagnosis and in whom there was a delay in the final diagnosis of the underlying malignancy. A literature survey was performed including patients under 18 years of age with psychiatric symptoms in whom later on an oncological diagnosis became evident as an explanation. RESULTS: We have found 30 additional cases, with a median delay of 12 months until the diagnosis of the tumour. Overall, 16 boys and 16 girls had a solid tumour: 26 central nervous system tumours, 3 tumours of the gastrointestinal tract and 3 others. In 25 out of 32 patients anorexia nervosa was assumed, although it always appeared to be atypical. Patients younger than 7 years had a significantly longer delay until final diagnosis, while no other patient characteristics correlated with such delay. DISCUSSION: In addition to careful physical (including full neurological) examination, we advise additional neuroimaging especially in each case of atypical presentation of anorexia nervosa, in order to avoid a delay in diagnosis of a possible malignancy. Furthermore, it is desirable to perform a re-examination when a psychiatric disorder does not respond to therapy, in order not to overlook an underlying oncological disease.

Research abstracts