One in four people with secondary cancer visit their GP at least three times before being diagnosed. Secondary cancer, also known as metastatic cancer, means that the cancer has spread through the blood resulting in secondary tumours.
In the UK, 35,000 people are living with the incurable form of the disease and on average 11,500 people die each year in the UK from breast cancer, most of which have secondary breast cancer. Breast Cancer Now, a research and care charity, has said that there’s a “worrying perception” that people can easily be treated for breast cancer and survive it.
Jo Myatt, 43, from Chorley, said she felt “stupid and naïve” because she didn’t know that cancer can spread to other parts of the body even when there is no cancer left in the breast. She had been diagnosed with breast cancer 10 years previously, but she visited her GP five times with symptoms of nausea and missed periods, which worsened and became more frequent, before she was diagnosed with secondary cancer. Now on her fourth treatment, Jo has an anxious wait for the results of her latest scans. She knows that eventually she will run out of options, which will have a devastating effect on her young family.
More Awareness is Key
A survey carried out by Breast Cancer Now, taken by 2,100 people in the UK who had secondary breast cancer, revealed that only 13% of them were made aware of the symptoms to look out for which could indicate that their cancer had spread. A campaign by the charity, called ‘The Unsurvivors’, explains that GPs require more support, such as better training, and for red-flag symptoms to be highlighted in GP surgeries so that patients know what to look out for. The charity has said that it is “unacceptable” that some people whose cancer had spread were not getting early access to treatments. Chief Executive, Baroness Delyth Morgan says, “For over a decade we’ve been calling for improvements to the diagnosis, treatment and care of secondary breast cancer, but change has been too slow.”
Sally Green, a Trainee Legal Executive for the Medical Accident Group agrees: “Awareness of the disease itself is high – everyone has heard of breast cancer, but despite NHS investment and increased charity support, people still lack knowledge regarding secondary cancers. I think GPs are working hard to recognise the symptoms, but they can only be assisted by how well a patient is able to report them and when. If more guidance and advice was given to patients with cancer, it might be easier for everybody to spot the early signs of secondary cancer.”
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