A total of 957 deaths from advanced breast cancer could be avoided each year in England if its early diagnosis rates matched those in Norway and Sweden, research has shown.

In comparison with Norway and Sweden, the excess death rate in England “was particularly pronounced in the first month and in the first year after diagnosis, and generally more marked in the oldest age groups,” researchers found.

Compared with Norwegian patients, 81% of avoidable deaths in English patients occurred in the first two years after diagnosis.

“Our findings emphasise the importance of awareness of symptoms and early detection as the main strategy to improve breast cancer survival in the UK,” Professor Henrik Moller, lead author on the study, from King’s College London, said.

They looked at breast cancer cases for women diagnosed between 1996 and 2004 from the three countries.This included 303,657 English cases, 24,919 Norwegian cases, and 57,512 cases from Sweden.

The experts said that when breast cancer is caught early, treatment is often milder and more effective. So poor survival rates in the first year or so after diagnosis highlights the issue of late diagnosis.

Every year in England, there are 1,183 avoidable deaths from breast cancer within five years of diagnosis. Of these, 260 occur within a month of diagnosis, 557 between a month and a year after diagnosis and 140 after a year - but before two years - since diagnosis.

Professor Sir Mike Richards, the Government’s national cancer director, said: “Over the coming months we shall be looking at what needs to be done to achieve earlier diagnosis.”