Breast Cancer Awareness: Delay in Diagnosis

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08 October, 2021

Every ten minutes a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer in the UK. It is important especially now to check your breasts. For months, the coronavirus put many areas of breast cancer on pause. Almost one million women in UK have missed vital breast screening due to COVID-19. Although the risk is smaller for men, breast cancer can affect men too.

Early signs of breast cancer can be a lump in a breast, a painful breast or armpit, or a discharge from the nipple. A doctor will most likely perform a manual exam and send you for a mammogram. A mammogram examination is painless and takes about ten minutes.

If the mammogram shows a lump, your doctor should order a biopsy. This test will show if the lump is benign (harmless) or malignant (cancerous). Early detection is a life saver. By way of a simple operation the lump is removed after which the doctor will discuss further options with you.

The biopsy taken will determine the staging of the cancer.

What are the stages of breast cancer and what do they mean?

There are four stages for breast cancer, with one being the earliest and four meaning it has spread to other parts of the body.

Here are the different stages, as shared by Cancer Research UK.

Stage one

There are two parts to stage one:

  • 1A - This means the tumour is 2cm or less and hasn't spread outside the breast
  • 1B - Small areas of breast cancer cells are found in the lymph nodes close to the breast. There is also no tumour in the breast or the tumour is 2cm or less.

Stage two

There are two parts to stage two, and this stage means the cancer is in the breast or nearby lymph nodes:

  • 2A - There is no tumour or a tumour 2 centimetres (cm) or smaller in the breast and cancer cells are found in 1 to 3 lymph nodes in the armpit or in the lymph nodes near the breastbone. It can also mean the tumour is larger than 2cm but not larger than 5cm and there is no cancer in the lymph nodes.
  • 2B - The tumour is larger than 2cm but not larger than 5cm and there are small areas of cancer cells in the lymph nodes. Or it can mean the tumour is larger than 2cm but not larger than 5cm and the cancer has spread to 1 to 3 lymph nodes in the armpit or to the lymph nodes near the breastbone or the tumour is larger than 5cm and hasn't spread to the lymph nodes.

Stage three

There are three parts to stage three, and this stage means the cancer is in the breast or nearby lymph nodes:

  • 3A - There is no tumour or the tumour may be any size and cancer is found in 4 to 9 lymph glands under the arm or in the lymph glands near the breastbone. Or the tumour is larger than 5cm and small clusters of breast cancer cells are in the lymph nodes. It could also mean the tumour is more than 5cm and has spread into up to 3 lymph nodes in the armpit or to the lymph nodes near the breastbone.
  • 3B - The tumour has spread to the skin of the breast or the chest wall. The cancer may have spread to up to 9 lymph nodes in the armpit or to the lymph nodes near the breastbone.
  • 3C - There are 10 or more lymph nodes in the armpit, lymph nodes above or below the collarbone or lymph nodes in the armpit and near the breastbone.

Stage four

This means the cancer has spread to other parts of the body such as the bones, lungs, liver or brain.

Time is of the essence for referrals

The Nottinghamshire Live reported that hospitals in Nottinghamshire are failing to refer half of breast cancer patients for treatment within the targeted time. In July, Sherwood Forest Hospitals referred just over 50% of breast cancer patients for treatment within 62 days, according to NHS figures. This falls well short of the NHS target of 85%, which accounts for patients who are unfit for treatment or choose to delay it. The trust, who run King's Mill Hospital, Newark Hospital and Mansfield Community Hospital, apologised for the low referral rate, blaming it on a backlog of patients following Covid.

NHS targets say most people urgently referred by their GP for suspected breast cancer should see a specialist under the 2-week rule. Once they have been diagnosed, patients should start treatment within two months (62 days) of being referred.

If you have been affected by a late diagnosis, then we at Forbes may be able to assist.

For more information contact Leonie Millard in our Clinical Negligence department via email or phone on 01254 770517. Alternatively send any question through to Forbes Solicitors via our online Contact Form.

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