A recent study in the Netherlands has found that breast cancer patients over the age of 70 have a lower chance of survival in England than in four other European countries.

Thursday 7 June 2018      Latest research
Male doctor talking older female patient

Older women diagnosed with breast cancer in England are less likely to survive their disease than those in Belgium, Poland, Ireland and the Netherlands, according to new research published in the British Journal of Cancer.

In a study of 236,015 women who had been diagnosed with early breast cancer, researchers at the Leiden University Medical Centre in the Netherlands found that England ranked worst out of the selected countries for five-year survival for breast cancer at stage two and three.

The researchers also found that patients with stage one or two breast cancer in England were the most likely to have no surgery as part of their treatment compared with other countries – with not having surgery at stage three also found to be linked to poorer survival. 

In England, 44% of patients received no surgery at stage three – compared to 22% of patients in Belgium. Overall the number of patients with stage three breast cancer surviving their disease for five years or more in England was 48%, compared to 60% in Belgium. 

Fiona Hazell, Director of Policy and Engagement at Breast Cancer Now, said:

“It’s extremely concerning that, despite recent progress, survival rates for older women with breast cancer in England continue to lag unacceptably behind other European countries. Far too many women are still dying from breast cancer in the UK and we simply cannot afford to be complacent.

“This worrying study adds evidence to long-held concerns that unconscious bias may be denying many older breast cancer patients the option of surgery that could benefit them. 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.

“Five years since the APPG on Breast Cancer’s inquiry into breast cancer in older women, progress in improving outcomes has been nowhere near good enough. We urge the NHS and the surgical community to work together to ensure all patients over 70 are given the best possible treatment for them, regardless of their age.”