October is breast cancer awareness month.  The Breast Cancer campaign, Wear it Pink symbol and breast cancer awareness month aim to raise awareness of the symptoms of breast cancer amongst women to aid in early detection of the disease and to raise money to fund breast cancer research.  In 2013, £2.1 million was raised towards breast cancer research.

There are several factors which affect breast cancer survival including the grade of the tumour and whether its cells have receptors for cancer drugs.  However, the stage of the tumour is also an important prognostic indicator and this is a factor which changes with time.

Cancer Research UK’s breast cancer statistics state that, 85% of women with stage 1 breast cancers lived for more than 10 years. For stage 2 breast cancers, more than 60% of women lived for more than 10 years. However, only 40% of women with stage 3 breast cancer lived for more than 10 years. For stage 4 breast cancers, i.e. cancer that has already spread to another part of the body, only 10% of women lived for more than 10 years

It is clear that stage at diagnosis is a significant factor in breast cancer survival.  However, early diagnosis also affects treatment, for instance, early stage breast cancer does not always require a mastectomy, radiotherapy may be less extensive and chemotherapy less toxic.

Clearly the UK breast cancer screening programme plays a part in early diagnosis of breast cancer.  However, many women first discover an abnormality within their breasts themselves and the first port of call is most often their GP practice.  However, despite there being clear Referral Guidelines for Suspected Cancer, published by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) as long ago as June 2005, many women are still not referred appropriately by their GP practice.  My blog published in April 2012, referenced analysis in the Lancet Oncology which revealed that 7.4% of breast cancer patients visited their GP 3 or more times before being referred.

This is a familiar story to clinical negligence solicitors and it can have devastating consequences for patients.  Having presented to the GP surgery once, and having been reassured, patients are often reluctant to, as they perceive it, “waste” the doctor or nurse’s time by going back again even if their symptom has not resolved.  Consequently, patients often wait several months before returning with an unresolved breast symptom and, as can be seen from the statistics above, this can have an impact on the prognosis and treatment of their cancer.  A previous client of the Clinical Negligence team, Annette Brown, speaks about her breast cancer journey in this video on our website.