OLDER women with breast cancer are missing out on vital treatment, an investigation spearheaded by a Hampshire MP has found.
Women are not routinely screened past 70, its report warned – despite 15,000 breast cancer diagnoses every year in women that age or older.
And, even when diagnosed, older women are less likely to be offered treatment, amid evidence that some doctors write them off as too “frail”.
Now the all-party party parliamentary group on breast cancer, led by Winchester MP Steve Brine, pictured below, has called for screening up to the age of 76 – or even 79.
And it has recommended a new assessment of “frailty”, to ensure older patients are judged according to their “health, rather than age”.
Mr Brine, a Conservative MP, said: “We find ourselves at a watershed moment for the care of older people with breast cancer. Every year, over 15,000 women aged over 70 are diagnosed with breast cancer. Yet older women experience poorer survival outcomes, in part attributed to late diagnosis.
“We must take action now if we are to understand why this occurs and tackle this situation head on.”
Mr Brine launched the report, entitled Age Is Just A Number, alongside broadcaster Dame Jenni Murray, aged 63, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006.
Also present was Dick Rainsbury, the director of the breast unit at Winchester’s Royal Hampshire County Hospital, who said: “I think this is a brilliant idea and it’s long overdue. We do need to improve access to treatment for older women with breast cancer – not just surgery, but chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
“If a woman is 70, her life expectancy is to live to 87, so she has 17 years of life ahead of her. A lot of these older people are really healthy. If you offer chemotherapy to a woman who’s fit, even if she’s 80, she will go for it.”
Mr Rainsbury, until recently president of Association of Breast Surgeons, said older women were more “passive”, less likely to inquire about new developments.
He added: “We need teams of people to highlight needs of older people, who will work to get information to them and assess their suitability for treatments.”
The idea would build on existing guidelines, at the Royal Hampshire County Hospital and elsewhere, to assess health as well as age, and ensure treatment prospects are judged properly.
There are about 340,000 women aged 65 and over living with breast cancer, a figure expected to rise to 1.2 million by 2040.