Medical Mistake Claims - Simpson Millar LLP

Detecting Breast Cancer early is vital, don't delay talking to your GP

Author: Neil Fearn  Bullet  Dated: 03/05/2013

According to the latest statistics released by Cancer Research UK, the number of women under 50 diagnosed with breast cancer each year in the UK has risen to more than 10,000 for the first time.

Whilst it is not clear why breast cancer is rising in the under 50’s there are a number of factors thought to be playing a role and increasing that risk, namely:

  • increasing alcohol intake
  • hormonal factors such as having fewer children and having them later in life, and
  • the increased use of the contraceptive pill may be playing a role

Although Cancer Research states that one in 5 breast cancer cases are in women under 50 they do stress that fewer women under 50 are actually dying from the disease.

More than 8 in 10 women diagnosed with breast cancer before the age of 50 now survive their disease for at least 5 years which Cancer Research says is because of research, awareness and improved care.

This means that the rate of women in this age group dying from the disease has fallen by a significant proportion – 40% since the early 1990s.

Sara Hiom, Cancer Research UK’s director of health information, said: "Breast cancer is more common in older women, but these figures show that younger women are also at risk of developing the disease. Women of all ages who notice anything different about their breasts, including changes in size, shape or feel, a lump or thickening, nipple discharge or rash, dimpling, puckering or redness of the skin, should see their GP straight away, even if they have attended breast cancer screening. It’s more likely not to be cancer but if it is, detecting it early gives the best chance of successful treatment."

Early diagnosis is essential as it will enable early treatment with the expectation of improved outcome. A number of screening programmes have been introduced for common cancer types such as breast or colorectal cancer but it is still the case that most cancers are detected after the onset of symptoms and additional delay in diagnosis and treatment is likely to worsen prognosis of cancer patients.

In general, delay in diagnosis and treatment of cancer is divided into 2 groups:

  • patient delay is defined as the period from first onset of symptoms to first medical consultation, and
  • provider delay which covers the period from first consultation to definite diagnosis and treatment

Research has shown that a delay of more than 3 months in seeking medical advice by a patient specifically in relation to breast cancer cases is associated with lower survival rates, but no association has been found for provider delay.

This would suggest that those risk groups for delaying consultation can be identified and that a large proportion of late stage diagnoses breast cancer cases could be avoided if all patients with breast cancer symptoms would present to a doctor within 1 month which confirms the need to promote awareness.

Nevertheless, it is still the case that there may be a failure to recognise the presenting symptoms of breast cancer and a failure to refer to the appropriate specialist, or, there may be a failure by the specialist to carry out a full Triple Assessment consisting of clinical examination, breast imaging and needle biopsy which would identify the cancer which may allow breast conservation treatment, that is, for example a lumpectomy with a good cosmetic outcome rather than a mastectomy, with the physical and psychological problems associated with the removal of a breast, and subsequent breast reconstruction.

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