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The first sign of breast cancer isn’t always a lump

Australian Women's Weekly logo Australian Women's Weekly 11/10/2017 Ellie McDonald

Last year, singer Kylie Minogue celebrated her 10th year being cancer free after her May 2005 diagnosis. © Provided by Bauer Media Pty Ltd Last year, singer Kylie Minogue celebrated her 10th year being cancer free after her May 2005 diagnosis. While many may book in with their local GP after finding a lump in their breast, a new study is urging woman everywhere to keep an eye out for a few other unsuspecting symptoms.

The research, conducted by University College London, has found that one in six women (17 per cent) diagnosed with breast cancer first seek consultation after experiencing health indicators other than a breast lump.

In a study presented at the National Cancer Research Institute (NCRI) conference in Liverpool, researchers examined the data of 2,300 British women diagnosed in 2009 and 2010.

They discovered that while most women with breast cancer sought help quickly after noticing abnormalities, those who experienced ‘non-lump’ symptoms were more likely to delay seeking consultation for as long as 12 days – almost twice as long as it took for women with a lump to make an appointment.

What’s more, they found that an alarming 15 per cent of women waited three months.

“Our research shows around one in six women diagnosed with breast cancer have symptoms other than a breast lump,” says Monica Koo, lead author and researcher in cancer epidemiology at UCL.

“These women are more likely to delay going to the doctor compared to women with breast lump alone.

“It’s crucial that women are aware that a lump is not the only symptom of breast cancer. If they are worried about any breast symptoms, the best thing to do is to get it checked by a doctor as soon as possible.

“Diagnosing cancer earlier really is key in order to increase the chances of survival.”

What are the signs and symptoms of breast cancer?

Besides a breast lump, which 83 per cent of diagnosed women brought to their doctors, women should also seek professional advice for:

  • Nipple abnormalities including redness, crusting or clear/bloody discharge (seven per cent)

  • Breast pain or discomfort (six per cent)

  • Breast skin abnormalities (two per cent)

  • Breast ulcerations (one per cent)

  • Swelling or lump in the armpit (one per cent)

  • Back or muscular pain (one per cent)

  • Breathlessness (less than one per cent)

  • Changes to the contour or shape of the breast (less than one per cent)

While this study was carried out in the UK, in Australia alone, one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime, with eight women losing their battle to the illness each day. It is the most common form of cancer among women. 

Early detection is vital and can save lives. If you’re experiencing any of the above symptoms, wish to find out more, or want to book in for a check-up, visit your local GP today.


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