17% of women who were diagnosed with breast cancer waited more than a month to see their GP according to a new survey - the equivalent of around 6,000 women each year in the UK.
The YouGov poll for Breast Cancer Care also found that one in 20 women had waited more than six months after first spotting symptoms - with potentially fatal consequences.
The poll of more than 400 women found that almost a fifth of those diagnosed with breast cancer were jeopardising their chances of effective treatment by delaying a visit to their GP.
Nearly a third of women who waited more than a month before seeing their doctor believed they would be deemed a nuisance as their symptoms were simply not serious enough to merit a visit to their GP, while one in five were simply too scared to see their doctor for fear they might have breast cancer.
These findings are extremely worrying as they show that despite widespread awareness campaigns around breast cancer symptoms some women are still not taking the issue seriously.
Obviously any unusual changes to one’s breasts can be extremely scary. However, it is absolutely paramount women understand that the sooner cancer is diagnosed the more effective treatment is likely to be and the better their chances of surviving.
It is crucial women of all ages regularly examine their breasts and report any suspicious symptoms they may have - no matter how apparently minor they may be - to their GP as soon as possible.
Although being diagnosed with cancer can be a terrible shock, for many patients early diagnosis means less intrusive treatment and longer life expectancy.
Approximately 55,000 people are diagnosed with breast cancer every year in the UK, and around 65% of such cases are identified through symptoms.
One in ten women surveyed in the YouGov poll did not have a lump, but instead had less common symptoms such as redness or a puckering or dimpling of the skin on the breast. In some cases, such symptoms can signify a rare and aggressive strand of the disease known as inflammatory breast cancer which accounts for between 1% and 4% of all breast cancers.
Much of the work our specialist clinical negligence team performs is for patients whose cancer has been diagnosed late as a result of avoidable mistakes.
Common errors include GPs failing to recognise cancer symptoms and making early referrals. Other errors include misinterpreting x-rays, scans or mammograms as well as making mistakes when analysing tissue samples.
In our experience delayed diagnosis and misdiagnosed cancer errors cause particular harm when it comes to bowel, cervical, breast and skin cancer cases.
There is already plenty of evidence that standards vary too widely across the UK and our cancer detection rates lag way behind other European countries.
If we are serious about closing these gaps we need to address the issue of early cancer diagnosis as a matter of urgency and ensure those who are diagnosed with the disease are tested and treated as efficiently and as soon as possible.
Paul Sankey is a Senior Clinical & Medical Negligence Solicitor leading the Slater and Gordon Lawyers Clinical Negligence team in London.
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