A pioneering report, ‘Age is just a number’, was launched on Wednesday 17th July 2013 outlining new and urgent recommendations to combat the issues surrounding inequality in treatment, services and support available to older breast cancer patients.
For the first time, proactive measures to help tackle what has been a long suspected problem within the NHS have been outlined in this new report by The All Party Parliamentary Group on Breast Cancer (APPGBC) chaired by MPs Steve Brine, Annette Brooke and Sharon Hodgson.
The report’s recommendations are being backed by the UK’s leading breast cancer charities, Breakthrough Breast Cancer, Breast Cancer Care and Breast Cancer Campaign, with support from renowned broadcaster Dame Jenni Murray DBE, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006.
Some of the main areas requiring attention, highlighted in the report, are:
· Breast awareness needs to be improved amongst older women. Older women experience poorer survival outcomes, in part attributed to late diagnosis, with one in five women aged over 70 reported to never touch, feel or look at their breasts. Given the country’s ageing population, it’s vital that women are educated on how to be breast aware as the earlier breast cancer is found the better the chance of survival.
· The current breast cancer screening age extension trial should be extended further, up to 79. As life-expectancy continues to climb, more needs to be known about the benefits and risks of screening in women over 70s. Moreover, once routine NHS breast screening invitations stop women often assume they are no longer at risk. We need to ensure women understand that their risk of breast cancer increases with age.
· An evidence-based tool must be developed to ensure older breast cancer patients are not judged by their age but by their individual fitness for treatment. Many older people are maintaining good health for longer and are therefore able to tolerate cancer treatments which would have been deemed too aggressive in the past. Patients must be judged on health, not age, to ensure the best possible outcomes.
· The additional needs of older breast cancer patients must be taken into account at time of diagnosis to ensure that the best, tailored support system is provided. The inquiry panel heard evidence of patients having to delay or decline cancer treatment because support services were not in place. Older cancer patients are likely to have more needs than younger patients, such as caring for relatives or assistance travelling to appointments, so necessary support must be arranged to ensure no delay in treatment.
MP Rosie said:
“It is deeply concerning that older breast cancer patients are being denied access to the full treatment and support options available purely as a result of their age. By learning from those at the heart of the issue we have gained a clear picture of these barriers and what must be done to eradicate them.”
The charities Breakthrough Breast Cancer, Breast Cancer Care and Breast Cancer Campaign said in a joint statement:
“No one’s age should dictate their access to the best possible treatments and care. As the UK’s leading breast cancer charities, we have joined forces with the APPGBC to tackle the long suspected issue of age inequality amongst breast cancer patients.
“For most women, getting older is the biggest risk factor for developing breast cancer so we must take action to ensure older breast cancer patients receive the same gold standard of care as younger women.
“We are calling on NHS England, Public Health England and Clinical Commissioning Groups to implement these recommendations as soon as possible to ensure older patients are treated as individuals, and not stereotyped by their age.”
The risk of breast cancer increases with age and currently more than 340,000 women aged 65 and over are living with this disease in the UK. With an ageing population this number is expected to hit 1.2 million by 2040.
Dame Jenni Murray, DBE, journalist, broadcaster and author, has provided the foreword to the report, and adds:
“We cannot and must not ignore the experiences of older women with breast cancer. More than half of the women dying from breast cancer across the country are over 70. Research and the media have shown us that barriers in gaining access to the same treatments and support services available to younger breast cancer patients are happening in England today. I welcome the APPGBC’s report as it presents us with an opportunity to take action and improve the situation for older breast cancer patients, which is urgently needed.”
The full report includes nine final recommendations and is available to download via