Breast Cancer Care launches policy briefing: Improving outcomes and experiences for older women with breast cancer

Breast Cancer Care, the leading breast cancer support and information charity in the UK, has produced a new report, backed by Age UK, that makes clear recommendations to improve outcomes and experiences for older women with breast cancer, a demographic proven to have poorer relative survival rates and an increased likelihood of presenting later with symptoms and of receiving non-standard treatments.

Breast Cancer Care will launch their policy briefing 'Improving outcomes and experiences for older women with breast cancer' on 17th November 2011 as part of their ongoing commitment to understanding and tackling health inequalities. The briefing is aimed at policy makers and healthcare professionals concerned with improving services and the quality of life of older people with breast cancer in the UK. In the report Breast Cancer Care expresses concern that many older women may not be receiving the level and type of support, treatment and information they need or that is comparative to that of younger women.*

It is estimated that almost 10 per cent of the total female population aged over 65 years is living with a diagnosis of breast cancer (Cancer Research UK, 2011, citing Maddams et al, 2008). For women with symptomatic breast cancers in 2007 (excluding those cancers that are detected through screening), five year relative survival was 86% in women aged 40-49 years and only 62% in women aged 80 years and above (WMCIU, 2011).

Breast Cancer Care’s Director of Policy & Research, Liz Carroll, comments, “At the crux of this briefing is how important it is that older women are valued in the health system. Breast cancer risk increases with age, yet older women are rarely targeted by specific health promotion initiatives and current evidence suggests that some older patients in the UK are being under-treated when there is no clinical reason for this conservatism. There needs to be more breast health promotion initiatives specifically targeting older women. Older women with breast cancer deserve personalised care plans that are not based on chronological age and access to appropriate information and support based on their individual needs.”

Grace, 68, was diagnosed with breast cancer six years ago and felt, “like a non-person, like a piece of meat on a conveyor belt with no voice and no right to information”.

“Initially, there was no discussion. I was informed that ‘what we did’ was the gold standard. I had to push for other options and was discouraged from exploring the treatment I wanted. My other medical conditions were glossed over (ischaemic heart disease, asthma, high blood pressure, osteoporosis). Also my emotional fragility having just learned that my husband had throat cancer which was immediately life threatening – there was no understanding that I didn’t want us to be in different hospitals at the same time. I was told there were young women [with breast cancer] with young children and they were coping so I should.”

Michelle Mitchell, Charity Director at Age UK said: “This timely report by Breast Cancer Care reveals some of the obstacles faced by older women in getting the diagnosis and treatment they need for their breast cancer. Age UK believes such issues are often rooted in misplaced assumptions that older people are less likely to benefit from treatment or that older people are somehow peripheral to the NHS rather than its largest users. The definite outcome of failing to treat older people fairly is higher excess mortality and lives being cut short.”

For more information or to receive a copy of 'Improving outcomes and experiences for older women with breast cancer', please contact Caroline Sargent at the Breast Cancer Care Press Office, 020 7960 3450 or email

* Although rare, men are also at greater risk of a breast cancer diagnosis the older they get.

Note to editors:

Breast Cancer Care is here for anyone affected by breast cancer, male and female. We bring people together, provide information and support, and campaign for improved standards of care. We use our understanding of people's experience of breast cancer and our clinical expertise in everything we do. Visit or call our free helpline on 0808 800 6000.

Invitation to policy briefing launch reception

Thursday 17th November 2011
Breast Cancer Care Central Office
5-13 Great Suffolk Street, London, SE1 ONS

Breast Cancer Care has great pleasure in inviting you to the launch of Improving outcomes and experiences for older women with breast cancer. This policy briefing focuses on the key issues for older women affected by breast cancer and presents Breast Cancer Care’s recommendations for service improvements in the areas of early diagnosis; treatment and assessment; and information and support. Our guest speakers will be:

· Grace, one of our Breast Cancer Voices speaking from a patient’s perspective

· Professor Robert Leonard, Professor of Cancer Studies at Imperial College London and Hon Consultant Physician at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust

· Professor Malcolm Reed, Professor of Surgical Oncology and Head of the Department of Oncology at the University of Sheffield and Sheffield Teaching Hospitals Trust

Light refreshments will be available.

To register your place at this reception and to let us know of any access requirements, please contact Caroline Clark by Friday 11th November: or call 020 7960 3418.

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