Unacceptable delays in diagnosing secondary breast cancer

One in four patients with secondary breast cancer had to visit their GP on three or more occasions before they got a firm diagnosis, a survey has warned.

Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in the UK, with around 55,000 new cases every year.

In the UK alone, 35,000 people are living with an incurable form of the disease.

Breast Cancer Now said that it was “unacceptable” that some people whose cancer had spread were not getting early access to treatments which could alleviate symptoms and improve their quality of life.

“For too long now, the worrying perception that everyone survives breast cancer has masked the heartbreaking reality for 11,500 families in the UK that lose someone they love each year,” the charity said.


What are the symptoms of secondary breast cancer?

  • Unexpected weight loss or loss of appetite
  • Severe or continuing headaches
  • Altered vision or speech
  • Feeling sick most of the time
  • Breathlessness or a dry cough
  • Loss of balance or weakness or numbness of the limbs
  • Any lumps or swelling under the arm, breastbone or collarbone
  • Pain in the bones (e.g. back, hips or ribs) that doesn’t get better with pain relief and may be worse at night


Breast Cancer Now’s survey of 2,100 people in the UK with secondary breast cancer found that just 13 per cent were told of the symptoms to look out for if their cancer spread.

Four in ten said they felt their symptoms had not been taken seriously before they were diagnosed and almost one in ten had to see their GP at least five times before they received a diagnosis.


Baroness Delyth Morgan, chief executive at Breast Cancer Now said:

“It’s completely unacceptable that thousands of women may be experiencing avoidable delays in being diagnosed with the return and spread of their breast cancer. There is unfortunately no surviving a diagnosis of secondary breast cancer, and significant delays in patients getting the treatment and support they need can have a devastating impact.”


Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, from the Royal College of GPs, said: “GPs and our teams are working flat out to do the very best we can for all our patients.

“We understand the importance of timely cancer diagnosis and are highly trained to identify possible symptoms of cancer and its recurrence.”

Stokes-Lampard called for GPs to have better access to the right diagnostic tools and training to use them.

This month is breast cancer awareness month. To find out more about Breast Cancer Now, the work they do and how you can get involved this October, click here.


Text References

BBC News. (2019). ‘Unacceptable’ delays in diagnosing secondary breast cancer. Accessible: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-49999404. Last Accessed: 16 October 2019.

Donnelly, L – Telegraph. (2019). Quarter of women with incurable breast cancer sees GP at least three times before diagnosis. Accessible: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2019/10/10/quarter-women-incurable-breast-cancer-sees-gp-least-three-times/. Last Accessed: 16 October 2019.