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This Morning: Breast cancer examination

Denise Johnson, 55, was referred to Stafford County Hospital under the two-week urgent cancer referral scheme after she had concerns about a lump in her right breast.

But following a mammogram and ultrasound she was told she had a cyst.

She was told by a doctor she didn’t require surgery and to visit a GP if the cyst became infected.

But Denise continued to be concerned about the lump, so much so, she raised concerns with doctors on four separate occasions.

On three of those occasions she was told it was a cyst and sent home with antibiotics.

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More than two years later, a GP referred her to a breast clinic where tests showed the lump had more than doubled in size to 3.8cm.

In May 2021 she was diagnosed with breast cancer and told the disease had spread to her lymph nodes.

Denise, from Blythe Bridge, rosuvastatin pka Stoke-on Trent, had surgery to remove cancerous tissue and lymph nodes as well as radiotherapy.

As a result of her treatment Denise developed lymphedema, a chronic condition that causes swelling in the body’s tissue.

She instructed expert medical negligence lawyers to investigate her care and University Hospitals of North Midlands NHS Trust, which runs County Hospital, admitted a breach of duty.

The Trust admitted the delay led to Denise’s chances of surviving the cancer being reduced by almost half.

Denise now has to have annual mammograms to check that her cancer has not returned.

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She said: “Although I attended routine mammograms, I also regularly checked my breasts as you can never be too careful.

“When I was told by the hospital that I had a cyst and didn’t require further treatment, I felt reassured and relieved.

“Deep down I was still worried but had no reason not to believe what I’d been told.

“However, as time went on, I started to get more worried especially as the appearance of the lump was changing and it started getting bigger.

“By the time of my second referral to the breast clinic I was really concerned but nothing prepared me for the news I had cancer.

“It was absolutely devastating, not only for me but I also worried for my family.”

It was at an appointment in May 2021 when a GP referred her to a breast clinic where she was finally diagnosed with breast cancer.

Denise said: “I struggled to come to terms with my diagnosis but also whether more could have been done to diagnose and treat it sooner.

“One of the hardest things to accept was that my chance of survival had dropped quite dramatically because of the diagnosis delay.

“The treatment was difficult and the side effects still live with me now.

“Before my cancer I used to be a lot more relaxed and outgoing but now I’m a lot more anxious, especially as to whether it will come back.

“I still live in pain and my lymphedema means I’m not as active as I was nor as confident in myself.”

An NHS report found the “missed opportunity” to diagnose and treat Denise’s breast cancer in 2019 had reduced her chance of survival from 98 percent to 57 percent.

The Trust apologised for its care failings and will pay out compensation at a future date.

Denise is now using Breast Cancer Awareness Month to raise awareness of the signs of the disease.

She added: “I just hope that by speaking out and sharing my experience I can help others.

“While there were delays in diagnosing my cancer, it’s vital that women not only continue to attend screening appointments but also carry out regular checks.

“If they feel something isn’t quite right they should trust their body and instinct and seek a second opinion if needed.”

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