8 November 2016
Women at risk of breast cancer need to do more to educate themselves on the wide variety of potential symptoms of the disease, according to a new study.
Research from University College London has drawn attention to the number of women diagnosed with the disease in the UK who present with symptoms other than breast lumps - while suggesting that a lack of awareness of these other symptoms could be leading to crucial delays in diagnosis for many vulnerable patients.
Presented at the 2016 National Cancer Research Institute (NCRI) Cancer Conference in Liverpool, the research examined data from more than 2,300 women diagnosed with breast cancer in England in 2009-10, finding that 17 per cent went to the doctor with symptoms other than a lump.
These non-lump symptoms can include nipple abnormalities, breast pain, skin abnormalities, ulceration, shape abnormalities and an infected or inflamed breast. None of these are as well-known as breast lumps - the most commonly reported breast cancer symptom - but can nevertheless be an important early warning sign.
Of particular concern was the fact that, although most women with breast cancer sought help quickly, those with non-lump symptoms were shown to be more likely to delay going to their doctor compared with women with a breast lump alone. Individuals with breast ulceration, nipple abnormalities, breast infection or inflammation, swollen arms or armpits, and pain in the armpits were most likely to wait longer than three months to seek help.
Moreover, it was shown that women with both a breast lump and non-lump symptoms were also more likely to delay seeking help, further underlining the current lack of understanding of the potential implications of these other symptoms.
Dr Karen Kennedy, director of the National Cancer Research Institute, said: "This research shows that, all too often, women are delaying going to their doctor with symptoms of breast cancer. This could be because people are simply unaware that breast cancer can present in many different ways, not just through the presence of a lump.
"With a disease like breast cancer, it's essential to be diagnosed as early as possible so that a treatment plan can be developed and started. Awareness campaigns need to raise awareness of all of the potential symptoms of breast cancer, so that people know how to spot the signs and when to go to a doctor."
Breast cancer remains the most common form of cancer affecting women in the UK, with more than 53,600 cases diagnosed in Britain every year. The condition is known to cause around 11,400 deaths annually, with 27 per cent of cases considered to be preventable.
The availability of improved treatments is helping to bring survival rates up, with 78 per cent of women in England and Wales now surviving the disease for ten or more years. However, early diagnosis is crucial to ensuring the best possible prognosis, which makes recognition of symptoms a vital priority for women watching their health.
Posted by Jeanette Royston
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