In order to detect breast cancer early, women need to be aware that symptoms may not include a lump.
That’s the message from a team of researchers, who found one in six women (17%) diagnosed with breast cancer go to their doctor with a symptom other than a lump.
Researchers from UCL examined the data of more than 2,300 women diagnosed with breast cancer in England between 2009 and 2010.
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.
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 the 2009/10 National Audit of Cancer Diagnosis in Primary Care.
There are more than 53,600 breast cancers diagnosed in the UK every year and 11,400 deaths from the disease annually.
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.”
She added that diagnosing cancer earlier 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,” she said.
Dr Karen Kennedy, director of the NCRI, added: “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.”
The message that “breast cancer is more than a lump” is one that is echoed by Breast Cancer Care, who have created the below graphic to highlight other symptoms we often overlook.
The latest research was presented at the 2016 National Cancer Research Institute (NCRI) Cancer conference(link is external) in Liverpool.