Can you tell us a bit about The Brain Tumour Charity...

The Brain Tumour Charity is at the forefront of the fight to defeat brain tumours and defend the most amazing part of the human body. 102,000 people are living with a brain tumour in the UK and another 29 people are given the life-changing diagnosis every day.

Our twin goals are to double survival and halve the harm of brain tumours. To do this, we believe in fighting brain tumours on all fronts. We are the largest dedicated funder of research into brain tumours . We also raise awareness of the signs, symptoms and effects of brain tumours and through the HeadSmart campaign, have helped to reduce the average childhood diagnosis time. We also provide free information and support services for everyone affected by a brain tumour, helping families to better understand the care they are entitled to and supporting them to live a life as full as possible. By doing this, we can save lives, reduce long-term disabilities and improve life today for everyone affected.  

How can optometrists detect for a potential brain tumour?

Sadly, brain tumours have a 10-year survival rate of less than 15% and 28% of brain tumour patients report a visual impairment. Early detection can save lives and improve outcomes, and optometrists can play a key role in the brain tumour diagnosis pathway. Brain tumours have various signs that may present during an eye exam, but optometrists are also in a unique position to gain information during the history and symptoms which may indicate a brain tumour. Patients may report symptoms, such as headaches which are typically worse in the morning, blurred or loss of vision, double vision, sudden onset “shaking eyes” (Nystagmus), a family history of genetic diseases linked with brain tumours, and more.

Most optometrists will tailor an eye examination to the patient using the information gained during history and symptoms. Whilst visual acuity and examination of the internal eye is recommended for every patient, ocular motility tests, pupil reflexes and visual fields are examples suggested by the college to be conducted if felt clinically appropriate. Brain tumours can affect the results of all of these examinations, and it is vital that optometrists are aware of all the signs and symptoms so that patients can be referred to the appropriate specialist in a timely manner.

How has your ‘HeadSmart campaign’ helped patient’s with brain tumours?

HeadSmart aims to educate the public and healthcare professionals about the signs and symptoms of brain tumours in children and teenagers, to reduce diagnosis times. Since the first guidelines were launched in 2007, HeadSmart has helped to halve childhood diagnosis times from 13 weeks to 6.5 weeks, making sure people get the treatment they need more quickly. Our goal is to reduce average diagnosis times to four weeks or less, in line with NHS targets.

The online and offline resources provided by the HeadSmart campaign support GPs and other healthcare professionals, giving them the tools and information they need to know when to reassure, when to review and when to refer for a scan. There is also a simple credit-card sized ‘Symptoms Card’ to raise awareness in the public, of which over 2 million have been distributed across the UK to date. One example where HeadSmart has helped is Darcey Fletcher who had various visits, to her GP and local hospital, as she was suffering with headaches. It was recommended she had her eyes tested and her mum, Chrissy, was given the HeadSmart ‘symptoms card’ by her optometrist.  Chrissy and her husband, Ian, recognised Darcey had almost all of the symptoms and pushed for a MRI scan, which revealed she had an orange-sized brain tumour. This earlier diagnosis saved her life.

How important is the development of new technology/research in order to improve patient care?

It is imperative. Brain tumours are a cancer of unmet need. The treatments for brain tumours haven’t changed substantially in the last 20 years and so neither have survival rates. Investment is needed in research to improve diagnosis, increase understanding, find more effective and less harmful treatments, and ultimately a cure.

The Brain Tumour Charity spends approximately half of its income funding world-class research and we have a diverse portfolio of funded research. Our goal is to take discoveries from lab to life in the shortest time possible, so we fund all stages of research in order to have the biggest impact. We are a member of the Association of Medical Research Charities (AMRC) and as such we only invest in high quality research that has gone through a rigorous peer review process, as well as assessment by our Scientific Advisory Boards.

How do you expect to raise awareness about brain tumours at 100% Optical?

HeadSmart has produced a general guideline for healthcare practitioners, but knowing that optometrists can play a critical role in the diagnosis and management pathways, we plan to bring a specific guideline for optometrists to 100% Optical. This will include the visual signs and symptoms of brain tumours and techniques to detect these.

The HeadSmart ‘Symptoms card’ raises awareness of the symptoms to the public, and we encourage opticians to display these to aid with our goals of doubling survival within 10 years in the UK, and halving the negative impact that brain tumours have on quality of life.

We will also bring our patient guide as an example of the help The Brain Tumour Charity can provide to patients, and will encourage optometrists to signpost these resources to their patients once they have been diagnosed.

Jasmin Patel, Optical Engagement Manager, The Brain Tumour Charity