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Breast cancer patients wait too long

12th July 2007

Doctors have warned that an alarming number of patients with suspected breast cancer are waiting too long for a diagnosis.

The Government-set criteria is for all patients suspected to have breast cancer to be seen by a specialist within a fortnight.

But in a study published in the British Medical Journal, a team from the Breast Care Centre at Frenchay Hospital at Bristol have found an increase in the number of positive diagnoses among women deemed to be non-urgent cases.

The research compared nearly 25,000 urgent and non-urgent referrals between 2000 and 2005 and showed that that the number of women referred urgently by their GP had increased. But the proportion of cancers detected in those seen within two weeks went down from 12.8% to 7.7%.

However, it was noticed that as the numbers seen as non-urgent cases fell the proportion diagnosed with cancer rose from 2.5% to 5.3%.

Lead researcher Simon Cawthorn said the government target introduced in 1999 had been very effective in getting many women seen quickly but that most of the time it was impossible to tell whether a breast lump was cancer or not.

“The message is that we need to see everyone within two weeks,? he said. “Even though it's only a small number in the routine group, it's a significant number.?

The Department of Health spokesperson said that ministers were looking to improve the situation.

Maggie Alexander, director of policy and campaigns at Breakthrough Breast Cancer said all patients should be seen within two weeks.

 

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