Page last updated at 00:45 GMT, Thursday, 20 September 2007 01:45 UK

Breast cancer symptoms confusion

Breast check
Most women check for lumps - but not other symptoms

Many women are confused about the signs of breast cancer, a survey suggests.

The charity Breakthrough Breast Cancer found a quarter of women polled thought wrongly that having a persistent cough was a sign of breast cancer.

Some 81% wrongly believed a mole on the breast could be a symptom, while a third incorrectly linked an extra nipple to the disease.

The charity is calling on GPs to help clear up the confusion and improve the number of cases that are caught early.

The survey of 1,190 women aged over 50 found 87% of respondents carry out regular checks for breast lumps.

Only 10% look for inversion of the nipple
Only 14% look for changes in the skin on the breasts
Only 16% check for discharge from the nipple
Only 22% look for changes in the appearance of the nipple
Only 23% looked for changes in the size or shape of the breast
Just over half looked for lumps in the armpit

However, knowledge of the full range of symptoms to look out for remains poor.

The survey also found that half of women aged 70 and over were unaware they can continue to get free breast screening by making their own appointments through their GP, or local breast screening unit.

The vast majority (88%) of women in this group reported that since turning 70 their GP or surgery had not talked to them about continuing to make their own breast screening appointments.

Breast cancer risk continues to increase the older a woman gets and breast screening can pick up cancer before it can be seen or felt by hand.

Awareness campaign

Jeremy Hughes, chief executive of Breakthrough Breast Cancer, said: "It's clear that despite breast cancer now being the most common cancer in the UK, women remain extremely confused about what they should be looking out for - with their focus still very much on feeling for breast lumps.

"At the same time there appears to be misunderstanding amongst women aged 70 and over about whether they should continue breast screening.

"We would like to see more GP surgeries making patients in this age group aware that they can, and should, make their own regular breast screening appointments."

The most commonly diagnosed cancer in UK women, accounting for nearly one in three of all female cancers
More than 44,000 women diagnosed a year in the UK and 1,000 women die every month
80% of patients in the UK survive for at least five years after diagnosis
However, five-year survival rates are among the lowest in Europe

Breakthrough, which has launched a campaign to raise awareness of breast cancer, is offering GP surgeries a poster containing information for patients on how to check for the disease.

The awareness campaign is supported by a raft of celebrities, including actress Imelda Staunton, who said: "Get to know what your breasts look and feel like usually and go to your doctor if you find anything unusual or are worried.

"It is important to remember that the earlier breast cancer is detected and treated the better the chances of survival".

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