A campaign is being launched today that will target older women to increase early detection of breast cancer.
One in three women diagnosed with the illness in the North East each year is aged 70 or over. This age group also accounts for more than half of all breast cancer deaths in the region each year, latest figures show.
Public Health England is now launching a new national Be Clear on Cancer campaign to remind older women “don’t assume you’re past it”, and to visit their doctor if they spot any changes in their breasts.
More than half of women in the North East wrongly think women of all ages are equally likely to get breast cancer, when in fact the risk of female breast cancer increases with age.
Great-grandmother-of-two Winifred Amos, of Low Fell, Gateshead, was diagnosed with breast cancer four years ago.
The 89-year-old said: “I first noticed a bruise on one side of my bust in about June 2010 and I hadn’t remembered banging myself there.
“When it hadn’t gone after a few days I made an appointment at the doctor and asked my daughter Tricia to come with me. The doctor referred me straight to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Gateshead for tests.
“I got an appointment for the hospital within a couple of weeks and they gave me a mammogram first and then I had a needle biopsy, after which I was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“My first worry was that I didn’t want to have an operation. I knew that if that’s what the doctor recommended that my family would want me to have it.
“My daughter had read that a lot of people my age with this type of cancer can be treated with just a tablet and it turned out that that’s what the doctor recommended for me so I was very relieved.”
Mrs Amos explained it was important to get an early diagnosis of cancer.
“If there’s something wrong then I think it’s better to know about it because nine times out of 10 there’s something you can do to treat it,” she said.
Approximately 660 women aged 70 and over are diagnosed with breast cancer in the North East annually, yet survival rates are lower in this age group compared to younger women. Lack of awareness of symptoms other than a lump, such as changes in the shape or size of the breast, is believed to be one of the reasons for this, which the campaign aims to change.
Dr Tony Branson, medical director of the North of England Cancer Network, said: “Research shows that women over 70 have low awareness of breast cancer symptoms, other than a lump. They’re also more likely to delay presenting to their GP with breast cancer, which could ultimately affect their chance of survival.
“One in three women who get breast cancer is over 70, so don’t assume you’re past it or dismiss any symptoms as a sign of ageing.”
The Be Clear on Cancer campaign will see national adverts on TV and in the press from today until March 16.
Carole Wood, director of public health at Gateshead Council, said: “Early diagnosis of breast cancer gives women much greater chances of survival. We want all women in Gateshead to know what the signs and symptoms of breast cancer are and ensure that women over 70, in particular, know that they can request screening.
“If women do notice a change that they are concerned about, we recommend that they talk to someone about it as soon as possible by contacting their GP, practice nurse or a helpline.”