Public Health England has launched a ‘Be Clear on Cancer’ campaign aimed at women aged 70 and over to drive awareness of the risk of breast cancer amongst this age group and to increase their knowledge of lesser-known breast cancer symptoms.
In 2013, 75 women over 70 were diagnosed with breast cancer in Kirklees. Nationally, approximately 30% of all women diagnosed with breast cancer report a symptom other than a lump. However, research shows that when asked to name symptoms of breast cancer, only half of women over 70 (48%) could name a symptom aside from a lump.
Despite older women being at an increased risk of breast cancer, they are also more likely to delay going to their GP with breast cancer symptoms. This year’s campaign activity will reinforce the message ‘don’t assume you’re past it’, urging older women to visit their doctor straight away if they notice any unusual or persistent changes to their breasts such as a lump or a change to a nipple or to the skin or the shape of a breast.
The campaign first launched nationally in early 2014 and research shows that it successfully raised awareness that the risk of breast cancer increases with age. Promising results show a 25% increase in the number of breast cancers diagnosed in women aged 70 and over following an urgent GP referral for suspected breast cancer during the campaign period compared with the same period two years earlier.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women in England, with around 41,200 women diagnosed every year. National figures show that around 9,500 women die from breast cancer each year and over half of these are women aged 70 and over (5,400). This equates to around 15 women aged 70 and over dying from breast cancer in England every day.
Breast cancer claimed the lives of 37 women over 70 in Kirklees in 2013.
Early diagnosis of breast cancer is crucial and means treatment is more likely to be successful. If breast cancer is diagnosed at the earliest stage in women aged 70 and over, 93% will live for at least another five years. This figure drops to just 13% for those diagnosed at the most advanced stage.
Dr David Kelly, a local GP and Chair of NHS North Kirklees Clinical Commissioning Group said: “The older you get, the more important it is to be aware of your body. If you do notice a change in your breasts, whether it’s a lump, discharge or a skin change, go and see your GP as soon as you can. The chances are that it’s nothing serious but it might be something that needs attention and if diagnosed earlier, treatment can be a lot more successful.”
Dr Steve Ollerton, a local GP and Clinical Chair of NHS Greater Huddersfield Clinical Commissioning Group added: “We would also like to ask family and friends to encourage their loved ones to seek medical help if they say they have symptoms or have noticed any changes. Some women feel they are too old for certain things, but unfortunately breast cancer isn’t one of them.”
Councillor Viv Kendrick, Kirklees Council Cabinet Member for Prevention, Early Intervention and vulnerable adults added: “The earlier breast cancer is caught, the higher the chances of survival. My advice is to be vigilant, know the symptoms, check regularly and visit your doctor if you are concerned – it could save your life.
Don’t just look out for yourself; you can also play a key role in encouraging those close to you to do the same.”
Professor Dame Sally Davies, Chief Medical Officer said: “You are never too old to get breast cancer. It is not always a lump and women should look out for any changes in the shape of the breast, a change to a nipple or to the skin.
“Spotting the signs of cancer early is very important so if women are concerned about any breast cancer symptoms they should contact their GP straight away.”
The nationwide Be Clear on Cancer ‘breast cancer in women over 70’ campaign launched on Monday 13 July runs for eight weeks. For more information on the signs and symptoms of breast cancer please visit www.nhs.uk/breastcancer70.