Over 70s who think they’re too old to get breast cancer: Elderly women dying needlessly as they are no longer screened

In In The News by Barbara Jacoby

LLH network pressFrom: dailymail.co.uk

Older women may be dying needlessly of breast cancer because they wrongly assume that the threat has passed them by, experts have warned.

Figures have revealed that one in three cases of the disease – and more than half of deaths – are in women who are aged 70 or older. Despite this, the age group is not routinely screened for the cancer.

Cancer experts have warned that the winding down of breast screening at the age of 70 may lead to women falsely assuming that breast cancer is no longer a threat – when the odds of the disease actually increase with age.

Around 15,000 cases of breast cancer a year are diagnosed in women aged 70 and over.

These women are more likely to be diagnosed late, less likely to survive the disease and account for more than half of deaths.

Although women can still ask for a breast X-ray after they have turned 70, many assume that they are out of danger as they no longer get letters reminding them that it is time to be screened.

Other reasons for late diagnosis in older women include them being less likely to check their breasts and more anxious about ‘bothering’ their doctor with worries.

Research also shows that they are less likely than younger women to know that a lump isn’t the only symptom of breast cancer.

Dr Emma Pennery, from Breast Cancer Care, said: ‘If women don’t get screening invitations dropping on their doormat, they may think they are not at risk.’

And Breast Cancer Campaign spokesman Mia Rosenblatt said: ‘By stopping inviting women at 70, the programme has left some with the impression that the risk decreases at that point.’

The national breast screening programme’s cut-off point is due to be extended to 73 by 2016.

The NHS is also launching a campaign to increase awareness of breast cancer in older women.

From today, Public Health England’s Be Clear on Cancer campaign will tell older women: ‘Don’t assume you’re past it.’

However there is mounting concern that older women are being written off because of their age.

Experts claim that some doctors look at a patient’s age in their notes and decide on a treatment plan before they have even met them.

And one study found that elderly women are being denied life-saving breast cancer surgery routinely given to younger patients.

Caroline Abrahams, charity director of Age UK, said: ‘Older women are less aware of cancer symptoms and research shows that doctors are less likely to offer older patients the most effective treatments, despite the fact they can benefit.

‘Older women need to be aware that developing breast cancer in later life is a real possibility.’

She added: ‘It’s critical that decisions about the care of older people must be based on their needs and not simply on their age.’

Sara Hiom, of Cancer Research UK, said: ‘The sooner breast cancer is diagnosed, the more likely treatment is to be effective and the chances of beating it are greater – whatever your age.’