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One in six breast cancer patients have symptom other than a lump

Women with ‘non-lump’ symptoms delay seeking help

Jo Carlowe

Tuesday, 08 November 2016

Around one in six women diagnosed with breast cancer go to their doctor with a symptom other than a lump.

Some 17% of women present in this way, according to new research* launched this week at the 2016 National Cancer Research Institute (NCRI) Cancer Conference, in Liverpool. 

Researchers from University College London (UCL) examined the data of more than 2,300 women diagnosed with breast cancer in England in 2009/10. They found that, although most women with breast cancer sought help quickly, those with ‘non-lump’ symptoms were more likely to delay going to their doctor compared with women with a breast lump alone. 

Breast symptoms, other than a breast lump, that may be a sign of cancer (termed ‘non-lump’ in the study) include nipple abnormalities, breast pain, skin abnormalities, ulceration, shape abnormalities and an infected or inflamed breast.

Women with both a breast lump and ‘non-lump’ symptoms were also more likely to delay seeking help.

Women presenting with breast ulceration, nipple abnormalities, breast infection or inflammation, swollen arm or armpit, and pain in the armpit were more likely to wait longer than three months to seek help.

The research used data from 2009/10 National Audit of Cancer Diagnosis in Primary Care.

Monica Koo, presenting author based at UCL, said: “Our research shows around one in six women diagnosed with breast cancer have symptoms other than a breast lump. These women are more likely to delay going to the doctor compared to women with breast lump alone.

“It’s crucial that women are aware that a lump is not the only symptom of breast cancer. If they are worried about any breast symptoms, the best thing to do is to get it checked by a doctor as soon as possible. Diagnosing cancer earlier really is key in order to increase the chances of survival. Symptom awareness campaigns such as the Be Clear on Cancer campaign should continue to emphasise breast symptoms other than breast lump.”

Dr Karen Kennedy, Director of the NCRI, 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.”


* Koo MM, et al. Typical and atypical symptoms in women with breast cancer: Evidence of variation in diagnostic intervals from a national audit of cancer diagnosis. NCRI Cancer Conference Abstracts, 2016

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