Women with Non-Lump Breast Cancer Symptoms More Likely to Delay Help

About 1 in 6 women diagnosed with breast cancer have a symptom other than a lump.

Lumps found in the breast are a red flag for most women because they may indicate cancer, but breast lumps aren’t the only signs of the disease.

Symptoms such as breast pain, nipple pain, infected or inflamed breast, shape and skin abnormalities, and ulceration can also be signs of cancer.

Research findings presented at the 2016 National Cancer Research Institute (NCRI) conference in Liverpool revealed that about 1 in 6 women (17%) diagnosed with breast cancer see a physician for a symptom other than a lump.

For the study, researchers examined data from the National Audit of Cancer Diagnosis in Primary Care of more than 2300 women in England with breast cancer diagnosed between 2009 and 2010.

Researchers found that although a majority of women with breast cancer quickly sought help, those with non-lump symptoms were more likely to delay going to see their physician compared with those who had a breast lump alone.

Women with both a breast lump and non-lump symptoms were also found to delay seeking out help.

Those who had breast infection or inflammation, ulceration, nipple abnormalities, swollen arm or armpit, and pain in the armpit were more likely to wait longer than 3 months before visiting a physician, according to the study.

“Our research shows that around 1 in 6 women diagnosed with breast cancer have symptoms other than a breast lump,” said study author Monica Koo. “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 emphasize breast symptoms other than breast lump.”

It’s estimated that more than 53,600 individuals in the UK are diagnosed with breast cancer each year, and 11,400 die annually from the disease.

“This research shows that, all too often, women are delaying going to their doctor with symptoms of breast cancer,” said Karen Kennedy, director of the NCRI. “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 the potential symptoms of breast cancer so that people know how to spot the signs and when to go to a doctor.”