Older women with breast cancer must be offered treatments that will give them the best possible outcome, a leading surgeon has said today, as new data suggests women over 70 are less likely to undergo surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy than women aged 50 to 69.

Tuesday 19 June 2018      Campaigns and policy
new audit shows women over 70 are less likely to undergo surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy than women aged 50 to 69

The figures were published today by the National Audit of Breast Cancer in Older Patients (NABCOP), which is carried out by the Royal College of Surgeons and the Association of Breast Surgery.  The National Audit of Breast Cancer in Older Patients  evaluated the care given to women diagnosed with breast cancer between 1 January 2014 and 31 December 2016, in NHS hospitals in England and Wales.  

Baroness Delyth Morgan, Chief Executive at Breast Cancer Now, said:

These deeply worrying findings add further evidence that unconscious ageism has crept into the way women over 70 are being treated for breast cancer on the NHS. We have long been concerned many older breast cancer patients are being denied the option of treatments that could benefit them, and this simply cannot be ignored any longer.

Five years since the APPG on Breast Cancer's inquiry into breast cancer in older women, progress in addressing this variation and in improving outcomes for these patients, has been nowhere near good enough. It is absolutely essential that all treatment decisions are made according to a patient’s suitability for treatment and not on the number of their years. That this audit highlights that patients of similar fitness but varying ages are receiving different treatment options is totally unacceptable.

We now urge all NHS trusts and local health boards to act on the audit's recommendations, to ensure all patients over 70 are given the best possible treatment for them, regardless of their age."

On the audit’s findings regarding the availability of one-stop-shop diagnostic assessments for breast cancer (Section 5.2 of the report), Baroness Morgan added:

It is extremely concerning that so few women are receiving the triple assessments they need in a single hospital visit, and we urgently need to understand why this is happening. These tests come at an already distressing time for many women, and we must do everything we can to ensure they receive their diagnosis, or peace of mind, without the added difficulty and expense of multiple trips to hospital.

While the reasons behind these worrying figures remain unclear, we urgently need to ensure that the current shortages in the diagnostic workforce are not affecting NHS breast cancer services. We urge the Government to heed this wake-up call and deliver on its promise to expand the diagnostic workforce as soon as possible.”