1 in 5 women delay seeing a doctor a month after identifying breast cancer symptoms

Research by YouGov has shown that a fifth of women who were subsequently diagnosed with breast cancer waited a month or longer before seeking an appointment with their GP, after spotting a potential sign or symptom. The findings also showed 1 in 20 of those women had waited up to 6 months before seeking an appointment with a healthcare professional. These delays can significantly reduce their chances of survival.

The study also considered the reasons behind these delays. Nearly a third of women who waited more than a month before going to their GP believed their symptoms were not a concern and one in five were too scared to see their doctor because of the fear that they might be diagnosed with cancer. A further 8% of women surveyed delayed going to a healthcare professional because they did not want to be a nuisance.

Approximately 55,000 people are diagnosed with breast cancer each year, with 65% of cases identified through symptoms. Of the 409 participants of the survey, 403 were women, and 17% of those who were diagnosed delayed visiting their doctor after noticing a symptom.  This translates to 6000 women every year in the UK. Moreover, 1 in 10 of the women surveyed did not find a lump –  the most typical indicator of breast cancer – but less common symptoms such as puckering or dimpling of the skin or a rash on the breast. In some cases these atypical signs may indicate a less common and more aggressive subtype of the disease known as inflammatory breast cancer, which accounts for 1 – 4% of all cases.
Samia al Qadhi, the chief executive of Breast Cancer Care, commented, “There have been many awareness raising campaigns around breast cancer symptoms, but our survey suggests that the job still isn’t done. The sooner a cancer is diagnosed, the more effective treatment is likely to be, so it is extremely concerning that some women are waiting more than six months to visit their GP after finding a breast symptom. We know how scary it can be to find a breast change, but we want to reassure women that an early diagnosis of breast cancer can mean simpler and more effective treatment. We are urging women of any age to get to know their body by looking at and feeling their breasts regularly, there’s no right or wrong way, and if they find any unusual changes for them to not put off visiting their GP.”

Macmillan Cancer Support Director of Policy and Research, Dr Fran Woodward, highlighted the importance of early diagnosis, “UK cancer survival rates currently trail behind much of Europe. If we are serious about bridging this gap we need to address issues such as early diagnosis as a matter of urgency. As well as helping people to recognise cancer symptoms, we must also support GPs to make timely referrals and ensure people are tested as quickly as possible.”