Oldest breast cancer patients get least treatment

In collaboration with the Press Association

Women over 70 years old with breast cancer may be receiving a lower level of care than less elderly women, research has suggested. But the reasons for this are not clear and could be due to patients' choices, rather than bias in the NHS.

According to a study undertaken by the University of Manchester, older women are less likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer as a result of a needle biopsy and triple assessment, and are also less likely to receive radiotherapy or undergo surgery. Dr Katrina Lavelle, who led the research, said: "We have found that older women aged 70 and over are less likely to receive the same breast cancer care as younger women and this is related to their age rather than differences in the biology of the tumour." The findings come despite statistics showing that the highest incidence of breast cancer in England occurs among women aged at least 70 years, with the five-year survival rate for sufferers over 70 standing at 76 per cent, in comparison to an average of 80 per cent across all age groups. Professor Chris Todd, co-author and research lead at the University's School of Midwifery and Social Work, stressed that further research is required. "It would be wrong to conclude that ageism is to be found in the NHS on the basis of these results alone, as this study has not been able to take the preferences of older women themselves into account," he said.

The research is published online in the British Journal of Cancer.

Read the abstract on PubMed

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