Article by Ceri Wheeldon
New awareness campaign for breast cancer and older women launches
We may think that we get to an age where we are less vulnerable for specific diseases, but I was surprised to learn that more than half of all breast cancer deaths annually are women over 50, and that one third of women diagnosed with breast cancer are over 70.
This comes as Public Health England launches a new national Be Clear on Cancer campaign to remind older women ‘don’t assume you’re past it’, and to visit their doctor if they spot any changes in their breasts.
It is essential that we ensure that our own family members are aware of this risk.
According to recent statistics around 13,500 women aged 70 and over are diagnosed with breast cancer in England each year, yet survival rates are lower in this age group compared to younger women. Lack of awareness of symptoms other than a lump, such as changes in the shape or size of the breast, is believed to be one of the reasons for this, which the campaign aims to change.
The earlier breast cancer is diagnosed, the higher the chance of survival – more than 90 per cent of all women diagnosed with the earliest stage survive for at least five years. This figure is around 15 per cent for women diagnosed at a late stage
Sean Duffy, National Clinical Director at NHS England, said:
“The fact is women 70 and over are more likely to be diagnosed at a late stage, compared to younger women.
“When we look at other countries such as Sweden, it is clear that we are losing far too many older women to breast cancer. In 2009 it was estimated that around 2,000 deaths from the disease could be avoided each year in England if survival rates matched the best in Europe.
“Whilst we have made good progress in the last decade, we are still lagging behind our international counterparts. This latest Be Clear on Cancer campaign has an important role to play in helping increase symptom awareness levels, early diagnoses and, ultimately, survival rates.”
“I met a lot of women affected by breast cancer when I was preparing for Peggy Mitchell’s diagnosis in Eastenders, which made me realise just how important an early diagnosis is.
“You get to a certain age and think you’re too old for some things, but breast cancer isn’t one of them.”
TV and radio presenter Gloria Hunniford, 73 years of age, is supporting the campaign and comments:
“I know firsthand, having lost my daughter Caron, the impact breast cancer can have on people’s lives, and the importance of checking for symptoms.
“The earlier breast cancer is caught, the higher the chances of survival. So know the symptoms, check regularly and visit your doctor if you are concerned. Don’t just look out for yourself, you can also play a key role in encouraging those close to you to do the same
With breast cancer devastating lives, encourage those who may be ignoring changes and symptoms to seek help – the earlier the better!