New report from the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Breast Cancer (APPGBC) has shown that, whilst progress has been made, there is still more to be done for this population group.

Thursday 26 March 2015  
Older women with breast cancer are still not receiving the support they need

The statistics surrounding older people and breast cancer are stark: more than half of breast cancer deaths in the UK are in women over 70.

Older breast cancer patients not adequately provided for

By 2040, almost three-quarters of all women living with breast cancer in the UK will be aged over 65 but, according to a new report from the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Breast Cancer (APPGBC), this patient population is not being adequately provided for.

In 2013, the APPGBC led an Inquiry into older people and breast cancer with an aim to better understand the variations and barriers preventing all patients diagnosed with the disease having access to the services, treatments and care that benefits them most, regardless of their age.

The Age is Just a Number report laid out a series of key recommendations with a view to improving services specifically for this patient population, representing the culmination of the findings of the Inquiry. Two years on, the APPGBC have reviewed the recommendations alongside the progress that’s been made and found that – whilst steps have been made in the right direction – a lot of work still needs to be done. In monitoring progress, the Group found the following:

Breast cancer awareness

Although initiatives such as Public Health England’s Be Clear on Cancer - Breast Cancer in Women Over 70 campaigns have helped raise awareness of breast cancer amongst the older population, better targeted interventions must be put in place to raise awareness of the signs and symptoms of breast cancer in this group.

Frailty tools

The APPGBC welcomes the significant efforts made by professional bodies to develop frailty tools to assess older women with breast cancer. These tools will allow women to receive treatment based on their fitness rather than their age and the APPG will be monitoring progress with great interest.

Breast cancer screening

In its 2013 report, the APPGBC recommended that Public Health England’s breast screening age extension trial should be extended to women aged 74-76. The Group is disappointed that this has not been taken forward and hopes that this issue can be addressed through the new Cancer Strategy currently being produced.  

Care and support

It is clear that more needs to be done to ensure that cancer patients have access to the support services that they need in order for their cancer treatment to take place. This can include home support such as caring for dependents while someone needs treatment for breast cancer.

Steve Brine MP

Steve Brine MP, Co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Breast Cancer (APPGBC), said: “We are concerned at the slow pace of change and the limited progress made on implementing the recommendations made by the Inquiry in 2013. Whilst some progress has been made, there is still a lot of work to do in ensuring that older people with breast cancer receive the care, treatment and support that is most appropriate to them and their circumstances.

“Now that we have identified where these gaps in service provision lie, the APPGBC will be playing an active role in following up these recommendations to ensure that all older breast cancer patients receive the care they need throughout the next parliament.”

Pat Howe, 68, from Sheffield said: “I found a slight thickening above my nipple but didn’t think it was anything to worry about. It was only after screening that I found out it was breast cancer. When the doctors told me, I sat there trembling on the bed. It was just before Christmas and I didn’t want to spoil the festive period for everyone with my bad news.

“After my treatment I started volunteering to raise awareness about the signs and symptoms of breast cancer. It’s such an important message. Women think it can’t happen to them, and that it happens to someone else. But of course it can happen to anyone, and older women in particular need to be aware of this. Breast awareness is something I’m so passionate about, it only takes a couple of minutes and just being in the habit of checking regularly can make all the difference.”

About the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Breast Cancer (APPGBC)

The APPG on Breast Cancer is a dynamic cross-party group, bringing together 65 MPs and Peers. 

Its aim is to raise awareness of breast cancer-related issues amongst parliamentarians and influence legislation and policy to improve the lives of people affected by the disease.

The Group is chaired jointly by Steve Brine MP, Sharon Hodgson MP and Annette Brooke MP. Baroness Morgan of Drefelin supports the Group as Vice-Chair. 

The Secretariat to the APPG on Breast Cancer is provided by Breakthrough Breast Cancer and is supported by a stakeholder group made up of Breast Cancer Campaign and Breast Cancer Care.