Volunteer for us and you could find yourself talking to a committee of MPs and Peers at the Houses of Parliament in Westminster.

That’s what happened to Judy Dadswell who’s been a one-to-one telephone support volunteer with us for more than 10 years. Heroically she agreed to give evidence to the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Breast Cancer. This influential group with the backing of Prime Minister David Cameron is looking into concerns that older people don’t always get access to the best and most appropriate care and treatment when diagnosed with breast cancer.

After listening to a series of professional and lay witnesses the APPG will come up with recommendations about how to ensure everyone gets the best treatment whatever their age. The aim is to publish a report on 17 July.

Inquiry witnesses (left to right) Hazel Brodie Les Scaife Emma Blows and Judy Dadswell

Hate to touch or look

Judy spoke at the final evidence session on Thursday 9 May when she explained how she supports other people who’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer and how much those people value speaking to someone of their own age who has been through breast cancer treatment.

She raised concern that in her own village where she works to spread breast awareness many of the older women she talks to simply hate the idea of touching or looking at their breasts. She struggles to help them understand how important this might be for early diagnosis and treatment and suggested that community nurses could hold the key to promoting breast awareness in some cases.

She also highlighted the fact that once women get to 73 they are no longer invited to routine NHS breast screening. In her experience this caused many women and even some healthcare professionals to believe that they were no longer seriously at risk of developing breast cancer. In fact breast cancer risk increases with age.

Other issues

Issues raised by other witnesses at the session included:

  • evidence that some people can’t or don't access breast cancer treatment because they are carers themselves. Macmillan Cancer Support’s Hazel Brodie suggested that individual assessments for everyone when diagnosed would help to identify barriers and allow care plans to be put in place
  • evidence that older people may sometimes not be offered breast cancer surgery on the basis of age rather than individual assessment. Les Scaife an older man with breast cancer told how he’d offered to run round the hospital car park to prove his own fitness for surgery (which he eventually got)
  • evidence from a joint Breast Cancer Care/King’s College London research project that older people in particular prefer to get their information from healthcare professionals and are less likely to go looking for it if it’s not offered especially online.

Breast Cancer Care works closely with the APPG on Breast Cancer and we are part of the Inquiry Working Group. Watch this space for news about the APPG report and recommendations.