Women with few qualifications are less likely to recognise breast cancer symptoms than those who went to university, new research suggests.

A survey of 961 women with differing levels of education found those who had fewer qualifications were less likely to regard symptoms such as nipple rash or a lump in the armpit as signs of breast cancer.

Fewer than three in 10 mentioned breast cancer when asked what a nipple rash could be caused by, while six in 10 thought an armpit lump could be a sign.

But among women with a university education, four in 10 mentioned breast cancer in relation to a nipple rash and seven in 10 women thought an armpit lump could be a symptom.

The study, funded by Cancer Research UK, was published in the journal Psycho-Oncology.

Dr Katriina Whitaker, lead author from the University of Surrey, said: "This study shows that better educated women are more likely to recognise breast cancer symptoms. We must find better ways to stop cancers being missed in the future for all women.

"We've asked women to imagine themselves with these symptoms and to predict how they would react, to understand the barriers to seeking medical advice. And now we need to speak to women who may have found or missed symptoms and find out why they sought help or why they overlooked their signs."

Dr Julie Sharp, Cancer Research UK's head of health and patient information, said: "It's really important that women are breast aware and report or unusual or persistent changes to their doctor.

"It's vital that we get the message out to all women that more people are surviving breast cancer than ever before and that finding the disease early gives you a better chance of beating it."

The research comes after the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) published new guidance on improving breast cancer care.

It said a genetic test should be offered to women with the most common type of breast cancer who have an intermediate risk of the cancer spreading.

This means some women could be spared chemotherapy because the test would say whether it could actually benefit them.

The guidance also sets out how women with suspected breast cancer who have been referred to a specialist should be offered a full assessment in a single visit.

This includes an examination, any scans that are required and, if needed, a biopsy. The aim is to speed up the diagnosis of breast cancer.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK, with over 50,000 new cases every year and nearly 12,000 deaths.