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MPS advises doctors how to avoid missing the early signs of breast cancer

1st September 2008

To mark the beginning of Breast Cancer Awareness Month on 1 October, a leading professional indemnity provider is warning doctors that delays in diagnosing the disease are a common contributor to claims against GPs.

The Medical Protection Society (MPS), the leading provider of comprehensive professional indemnity and expert advice to health professionals around the world, has also issued advice to doctors on factors that can reduce the chance of delays in the diagnosis of cancers occurring.

Dr Angelique Mastihi, MPS Medicolegal Adviser, said: "We studied 1,000 consecutive negligence claims against GPs and found that 14 per cent were caused by delays in the referral and therefore diagnosis of cancer.

Another MPS study of complaints in primary care has confirmed that delay, and the perception that there has been a delay, whether or not this is justified, is the main reason for these complaints arising".  

Breast cancer is one of three types of malignancy accounting for the largest group of diagnostic delays, the others being cancers of the cervix and colon.

Dr Mastihi said "One of the key messages here is that over 90 per cent of breast cancers are found by women themselves. When a woman says there is a lump in her breast, it is more than likely that this is the case".

Dr Mastihi also highlighted the need for GPs to ensure that their technique for breast examinations is up-to-date, as there had been cases where lumps were almost certainly present, although they had not been detected during an examination.

Dr Mastihi said: "The lessons from these cases included the vital importance of listening closely to patients, as sometimes they mention a very relevant symptom right at the end of a consultation about something else entirely.

This happened in a recent case and although the patient received advice from the GP, she was not examined and the issue was not documented in the records. As a result, subsequent doctors were unable to follow this up, as they would have done had they known about the lump, and there was a delay in diagnosing her cancer.

"It is also crucial to document all relevant information. In this case the fact that the patient was not examined initially and there were no relevant notes, meant that this patient had a valid claim for a delay in diagnosis".

MPS points out that breast cancer is the second most common form of malignancy in the UK after non-melanoma skin cancer, and by far the most frequent in women. It says that more than 45,500 women were diagnosed with the disease in 2005 and almost 300 men a year discover that they too have breast cancer. The lifetime risk of developing breast cancer is one in 9.

Dr Mastihi said "delays in detection could be crucial, as the chances of a woman with the disease recovering could be 90 per cent if diagnosis was early, but could drop to less than 20 per cent if the cancer was diagnosed when it was well advanced".

Further information about MPS can be found on www.medicalprotection.org/uk.


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Article Information

Title: MPS advises doctors how to avoid missing the early signs of breast cancer
Author: Martine Hamilton
Article Id: 8086
Date Added: 1st Sep 2008

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