Charity warns 11,000 people could be living with undiagnosed breast cancer - the signs to look out for

Nearly 11,000 people in the UK could potentially be living with undiagnosed breast cancer due to the Covid-19 pandemic (Photo: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Nearly 11,000 people in the UK could potentially be living with undiagnosed breast cancer due to the Covid-19 pandemic, charity Breast Cancer Now has warned.

The charity has calculated that fewer referrals and less access to treatment, paired with a pause to breast screening programmes, means that 10,700 fewer people were diagnosed with breast cancer between March and December 2020 than expected.

‘Best chance of survival is an early diagnosis’

Baroness Delyth Morgan, chief executive of Breast Cancer Now, said: “The tragic cost of almost 11,000 missing cancer diagnosis is that in the worst cases, women could die from the disease.

“And looking ahead, while we cannot know the full impacts of the pandemic, what we do know now is that over the coming years the number of women coming forward could overwhelm our already over stretched workforce.

“Women with breast cancer have already paid an unacceptable price due to the pandemic - we cannot afford any more time to pass before UK governments invest in and tackle the crisis facing the cancer workforce.

“Only then will we be giving women the best chance of an early breast cancer diagnosis which we know is critical to their chance of survival.”

‘Patients who missed a screening must come forward’

Dr Jeanette Dickson, president of the Royal College of Radiologists, said: “It is vital that those patients who missed screening last year - or who did not see their GP if they had possible symptoms - come forward.

“The NHS is open for business and the sooner we can diagnose cancer, the sooner we can treat it.”

The signs to look out for

According to the NHS, breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in the UK. Most women diagnosed with breast cancer are over the age of 50, but younger women can also still be diagnosed.

In rare cases, men can also be diagnosed with breast cancer too.

Breast cancer can have several symptoms, but the first noticeable symptom is usually a lump or an area of thickened breast tissue. Most lumps are not cancerous, but it’s always best to have them checked by the doctor.

You should see a GP if you notice any of these symptoms:

  • A change in the size or shape of one or both your breasts
  • Discharge from either of your nipples, which may be streaked with blood
  • A lump or swelling in either of your armpits
  • Dimpling on the skin around your breasts
  • A rash on or around your nipple
  • A change in appearance of your nipple, such as becoming sunken into your breast

The NHS says: “Breast pain is not usually a symptom of breast cancer.”

After examining you, your GP might refer you to a specialist breast cancer clinic for further tests - this might include breast screening or taking a small sample of breast tissue to be examined under a microscope.

If breast cancer is detected early, it can be treated before it spreads to other parts of the body.

Breast cancer can be treated using a combination of surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy.