Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in the UK, it is estimated that approximately 1 in 7 women are diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetime. In honour of Breast Cancer Awareness Month we've put together this insight to highlight the need to carry out regular breast checks, the different types of cancer and what to do if you are unlucky enough to experience a delay in breast cancer awareness.
Check those Tattas!
The late inspirational influencer Nicky Newman bravely shared her experiences with breast cancer and her treatment after being diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer in 2018. Sadly, for Nicky by the time that her cancer was diagnosed it was incurable.
Nicky’s campaign which she aptly called 'Check your Tattas' has helped to raise awareness of the signs and symptoms of breast cancer and how to check your breasts.
Nicky was well known for her incredibly positive outlook and ultimately spread the word that no matter what your diagnosis, it was important to “Go grab life” and make the most of your loved ones despite how little time you have left. Nicky’s work was incredible, and it is hoped that her message will live on, not just her incredibly positive outlook on life but also the importance of checking your breasts and recognising the early signs of breast cancer.
What types of breast cancer can you get?
There are different types of breast cancer which develop in different parts of the breast. The treatment and prognosis will depend on the type of cancer and, often, how early it is caught.
Breast cancer is commonly divided into either:
· Non- Invasive – the cancer cells have not yet spread into the surrounding tissues; or
· Invasive – meaning that the cancer cells have spread into the surrounding tissue – sadly this is the most common type of breast cancer.
If non-invasive cancer is left untreated this may become invasive.
What if there has been a delay in diagnosis of my breast cancer?
With breast cancer there is a good chance of recovery if it is detected at an early stage. It is therefore imperative that women check their breasts regularly for any changes and always have any changes checked by a GP. Even as recently as 2019, Cancer Research UK identified that a quarter of cancer patients experienced an avoidable delay in diagnosis.
Delays in cancer diagnosis / treatment can happen for a number of reasons ranging from:
· A delay in being able to see your GP once symptoms are reported
· A delay or misdiagnosis made by a medical professional (for example if your GP does not perform a correct examination, organise appropriate tests or referrals or any investigation results are not reported correctly)
· Long waiting times which may have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In 2022 the government announced a “war on cancer” and set targets to reduce diagnostic waiting times and deliver faster diagnosis. Unfortunately, data in July 2023 showed that the four important targets that indicate how well cancer services are doing were missed.
Naturally the overall impact of the delay in diagnosis / treatment is different for different cancer types however the overall impact is likely to be negative. Cancer research UK have highlighted that a study has estimated that a 4-week delay to cancer surgery led to a 6-8% increased risk of dying which is not acceptable if the delay is avoidable.
Sadly, we have come across cases that even where a person does everything right in terms of checking their breasts and contacting their GP there is still a delay in their treatment. Particularly with breast cancer early detection is key and with any delay, treatment may be more difficult and the cancer could potentially be incurable if there are delays in diagnosis.
It is sincerely hoped that because of Nicky’s amazing campaigning to raise awareness, people will be more aware of what to look out for and seek help sooner and some medical professionals may take similar patient concerns more seriously.
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