Millions of women in London are at risk of breast cancer due to low awareness of the symptoms – compounded by difficulties accessing services quickly and in a coordinated way.

Londoners are less likely than women around the country to identify signs such as a lump in the breast or armpit, breast pain or nipple changes – only 14% of Londoners can correctly identify eight symptoms*, compared to 17% of women nationally.

This means that one in four women in London have never checked their breasts for signs of cancer or can’t remember the last time they did. And of those who do perform self-exams, these are only taking place once every 53 days on average.

And poor access to services is compounding these issues. Women in London report more difficulties accessing medical help for breast concerns than others around the country, with nearly one in five saying it’s hard to get a GP appointment (compared to one in seven nationally) and others being too busy or unable to take time off work.

Because of this, if faced with a symptom more than two in five (42%) are delaying visiting a doctor for medical help, with 23% saying they would wait for up to two weeks and one in 10 waiting for up to a month.

However, just under a third of women in London (29%) stated that they would be more inclined to seek help for a breast related concern if waiting times for appointments and results were shorter.

Julia Ross, Head of Cancer Care, Bupa UK Insurance, said: “Sometimes it can be hard to remember all of the cancer symptoms we’re supposed to be looking out for, and this coupled with difficulties accessing medical help can mean that our health slips down the list of priorities. But early detection is so important to improving outcomes – so I’d urge women in London to make time to get to know what is normal for their breasts to enable them to identify any changes.

“As well as looking and feeling for lumps in the breast or armpit, changes in size or shape or changes to the nipple such as discharge, a good rule of thumb is to look out for any change that’s unexplained or persistent – and if you’re worried to seek medical advice.”

Mr Giles Davies, Director of Breast Surgery, Cromwell Hospital said: “At Cromwell Hospital, we understand that waiting to find out whether symptoms are cancerous is very stressful. Through our specialist Centre, we are able to offer all initial diagnostics in one appointment, so that our patients get the all-clear or a diagnosis and access to treatment as soon as possible.”

Eight symptoms of breast cancer

  1. A lump in the breast
  2. A lump in the armpit
  3. Nipple changes (such as a change to the shape or direction)
  4. Discharge from the nipple
  5. Change to size or shape of breasts
  6. Change in skin texture (it may become dimpled or puckered)
  7. Change in the colour of the skin (it may look red)
  8. A skin rash (on or around the nipple)

Find out more about our breast care diagnostic pathway at Cromwell Hospital and how we can support you.