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Double battle for Cumbria’s breast cancer women

As Breast Cancer Awareness Month gets underway, a Cumbrian firm of solicitors is highlighting the plight of women who are coping not only with their fight against breast cancer but also a battle with the health authorities to find out why their cancer was not diagnosed earlier.

Breast cancer is already a hot topic in Cumbria, following the announcement in July 2010 that mammograms taken of women at the Cumberland Infirmary, Carlisle, and the West Cumberland Hospital, Whitehaven, would be reviewed.  To date the review has highlighted the need to re-examine 130 women. Of the 49 women seen so far, 8 have been diagnosed with cancer, with a further woman being diagnosed with a non-invasive cancer.

Victoria Watson is a Partner in Burnetts’ medical law team and is advising women affected by the problems with Cumbria’s screening programme. She said, “These are women who have been responsible with their health, attended their routine screening appointments and have been sent home with a clean bill of health. To find out months, and even years later, that they have been wrongly given the all-clear is absolutely devastating, but then to discover that an earlier diagnosis would have led to a different outcome is unbearable.”

The mammogram review was called when the NHS Quality Assurance Team responsible for the region had concerns that a smaller number of women were being given needle biopsies (the second stage in investigating a potential breast cancer if concerns are raised from the mammogram) in Cumbria than in other areas.

Recent research published in the British Medical Journal show that death rates from breast cancer in the last 17 years have fallen by 35% in England and Wales. Early diagnosis of the disease is critical to a good outcome and any delay in the diagnosis can be very serious and potentially catastrophic.

Victoria continues, “Over and over again, I hear clients say they don’t want another family to go through the trauma they are enduring and they want the Trust to explain what on earth has been going on with their treatment and to ensure that this doesn’t happen to anyone else. Unfortunately past experience has taught us that we usually have to find out the answers for them: our independent medical experts can help us to answer those questions and consider if earlier and appropriate treatment would have made a difference for a client.”

“I would also stress that we are seeing clients from outside the dates that the Trust is currently reviewing. I would not be surprised if the review period was extended so I would advise women not to ignore any of the usual breast cancer warning signs because they have been given an all-clear on a mammogram before April 2007 or since July 2010.”

A free advice sheet has been produced by Victoria for anyone who thinks they may be a victim of delayed cancer diagnosis. It is available from the medical law section of Burnetts’ website on www.burnetts.co.uk or by calling Victoria Watson or Lynne Hall on 01228 552222.

Further information about Breast Cancer Awareness Month can be found at www.breastcancercare.org.uk.

Notes to editor:

BMJ statistics and commentary available from http://www.bmj.com/content/341/bmj.c4480

Published: Friday 15th October 2010
Categorised: Medical Negligence

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