Breast cancer confusion: Londoners struggle with symptoms

03 October 2019 . United Kingdom

  • Londoners less likely than national average to identify eight common signs of breast cancer
  • Difficulties accessing services coupled with lack of awareness mean women are delaying seeking medical help
  • This Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Bupa UK Insurance is extending its network of Specialist Centres for breast cancer to now include Bupa Cromwell Hospital to give Londoners wider access to fast diagnosis and expert treatment
Bupa Cromwell Hospital

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

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. 

Fast access to diagnosis and treatment

To provide patients in London with the fastest access to diagnosis, Bupa is extending its network of Specialist Centres for breast cancer to now include Bupa Cromwell Hospital. The centres offer Bupa UK Insurance customers an appointment with a consultant within two working days of calling its Cancer Direct Access service, and all initial diagnostic tests are completed in one appointment. If treatment is needed, it will be provided within 31 days of calling for the first appointment– less than half the time set out in national targets.

Patients using any one of the six Specialist Centres** for breast cancer will have their treatment planned by an expert multi-disciplinary team, who will provide a treatment plan including access to genetic testing appropriate to the individual. Patients will have support from Bupa’s Oncology Specialist Support Team and Bupa Cromwell Hospital’s Clinical Nurse Specialists, and emotional support services provided by Bupa’s team of counsellors via the telephone. This support also includes one session for a close family member.

The Specialist Centres build on Bupa’s commitment to deliver fast access to cancer diagnostics and treatment, which is key to improving survival rates. Bupa UK Insurance customers can call the UK’s most comprehensive self-referral cancer service - Cancer Direct Access - before being referred to a specialist consultant if they are experiencing cancer symptoms, without the need for a GP referral. Since launching in 2015, it has helped over 4,000 customers across the UK gain faster access to a specialist consultation to discuss their symptoms.

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, Bupa Cromwell Hospital said: “We are delighted that Bupa Cromwell Hospital has been recognised as a Specialist Breast Cancer Centre. The team always strive to deliver outstanding patient care.

At Bupa Cromwell Hospital, we understand that waiting to find out whether symptoms are cancerous is very stressful and 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)

**The Specialist Centres for breast cancer are located at:

  • Bupa Cromwell Hospital
  • The Harley Street Clinic, Marylebone  
  • The Lister Hospital, Chelsea
  • The London Bridge Hospital, London Bridge
  • The Wellington Hospital, St John’s Wood
  • The Wilmslow Hospital, Cheshire – treatment will be delivered at The Christie Private Care, part of HCA Healthcare UK

Notes to editor

Research conducted by Opinium Research between 11-14 January 2019 among 2002 UK women aged 18+, including 518 women in London.

For more information on the Specialist Centres, or request for interviews please contact:

Key features of the Specialist Centre for breast cancer include:

  • One appointment for all initial diagnostics under one roof within two working days, giving customers peace of mind or fast access to appropriate treatment sooner
  • Access to the latest equipment to accurately diagnose symptoms and get you on the right treatment path
  • Emotional and wellbeing support from a team including Bupa counsellors and nurses

About Bupa

Bupa's purpose is helping people live longer, healthier, happier lives.

With no shareholders, our customers are our focus. We reinvest profits into providing more and better healthcare for the benefit of current and future customers.

Health insurance accounts for the major part of our business with 16.7m customers and contributes around 75% of revenue. We operate clinics, dental centres and hospitals in some markets, with around 15m customers. We care for around 22,300 residents in our aged care businesses in the UK, Australia, New Zealand and Spain.

We directly employ around 80,000 people, principally in the UK, Australia, Spain, Poland, Chile, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Turkey, the US, Brazil, the Middle East and Ireland. We also have associate businesses in Saudi Arabia and India.

For more information, visit