Women Not Seeking Prompt Medical Care for Breast Cancer Symptoms

Women who display non-lump breast cancer symptoms are less likely to seek needed care.

The most common symptom of breast cancer is a lump, which is typically either discovered through a mammogram or a self-examination. However, a new study shows that approximately 17% of women diagnosed will display a symptom of breast cancer other than a lump.

Other less commonly discussed signs and symptoms of breast cancer include nipple abnormalities, breast pain, skin abnormalities, ulceration, shape abnormalities, and an infected/inflamed breast, according to a study presented at the 2016 National Cancer Research Institute Cancer Conference.

Investigators analyzed data from more than 2300 women diagnosed with breast cancer in England between 2009 and 2010. They discovered that women with non-lump symptoms were more likely to delay seeking care, compared with women who displayed a breast lump.

“Our research shows around 1 in 6 women diagnosed with breast cancer have symptoms other than a breast lump,” said researcher Monica Koo, MPH, MSc. “These women are more likely to delay going to the doctor compared to women with breast lump alone.”

Investigators also found that women with lump and non-lump symptoms were more likely to delay seeking care compared with other women.

Of women presenting non-lump symptoms, those with breast ulceration, nipple abnormalities, breast infection/inflammation, swollen arm or armpit, and pain in the armpit were more likely to delay care, according to the study.

“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,” Koo said. “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 emphasize breast symptoms other than breast lump.”

In the UK each year, approximately 53,600 women are diagnosed with breast cancer, and 11,400 of these patients die annually. The importance of early detection, along with recommended preventive services, have been emphasized worldwide.

Education on breast cancer mainly addresses the importance of breast examinations performed by the women themselves, and at their physicians’ offices. However, not much emphasis is placed on other non-lump symptoms, which could lead to lower detection rates.

These findings highlight the need for breast cancer education that includes non-lump symptoms and the importance of seeking prompt medical care before the cancer metastasizes or advances.

“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,” said Karen Kennedy, PhD, director of the National Cancer Research Institute. “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."