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Saturday, 1 December, 2001, 00:51 GMT
Women fail to spot breast cancer
Breast cancer screening
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK
Thousands of women are failing to seek early medical treatment for breast cancer because they do not recognise the first signs of the disease, a study reveals.

Approximately one in four women wait at least three months after they have developed breast cancer symptoms before they visit their GP.

A study by researchers at St Thomas's Hospital in London has found that in many cases this is because they do not recognise the symptoms or do not want to 'bother' their GP.

The researchers have called for more information to be made available to women to ensure they identify any potential problems and seek quick medical advice and treatment.

Breast cancer symptoms
A lump or thickening in the breast
Lump or thickening in the armpit
Changes in the skin or nipple
Changes in the size or shape of your breast
An unusual pain or discomfort
Researchers at the hospital interviewed 46 women with newly diagnosed breast cancer.

Of those who had delayed presenting to their GP, many hadn't related their symptoms as something that might prove to be breast cancer.

Twenty of the women who delayed seeing their GP had not had a breast lump as an initial symptom.

They said that if they had identified a lump they would have been more aware of the possible implications.


Other possible signs of breast cancer include a lump or thickening in the breast or armpit, changes in the skin or nipple, changes in the size or shape of your breast and an unusual pain or discomfort.

Some women said they delayed seeking treatment because they were afraid of the consequences of medical intervention.

Others said they had failed to prioritise their health and had put a visit to the GP off.

The study also found that women who sought regular health checks from their GP were more likely to seek early advice.

Caroline Burgess, lead researcher and research psychologist at St Thomas's, said the findings highlighted the need for more information to be made available.

"This study suggests that the most important stage in the help-seeking process for women with breast cancer is the initial one, where the patient identifies and labels the symptom.

"This suggests that the public perception of the presenting symptoms of breast cancer may need to be broadened."


A spokeswoman for the research charity Breakthrough Breast Cancer echoed that view.

"Women need accurate, clear information about breast cancer. Breast awareness is vital in order for women to recognise any changes to their breasts and communicate these confidently to their GP.

"A better knowledge of recognising changes to the breast is key to helping GPs make an accurate assessment. However, the onus should not only be upon women as the relationship between GP and patient is very much a partnership."

Breast cancer is now the most common form of the disease in the UK.

There are now an estimated 39,500 new cases of breast cancer diagnosed in the UK every year.

See also:

05 Nov 01 | Health
Breast 'most common cancer'
01 Nov 01 | Health
Drive to promote cancer screening
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