It is estimated that almost 10% of all females in the UK over 65 have been told they have breast cancer and, since the risk of the disease increases with age, this rises to 31% in women aged 70 and over.Breast Cancer Care says that, in 2007, the five-year survival rate for women who had breast cancer symptoms, excluding those detected by screening, was 86% in women aged 40-49, but this fell to 62% in women aged 80 or older.
However, the charity found that many of these older women are unaware of their increased risk. For instance, they do not check their breasts regularly, are not confident about detecting breast changes and lack knowledge about symptoms of breast cancer other than lumps. Furthermore, the report says, when they do notice suspicious symptoms they are more likely to seek medical help late - a factor which may explain the higher death rates in older people.The report says that, despite the increased risk, ending routine invitations for screening to women at 70 in most part of England can result in older women mistakenly thinking that they have less risk of developing breast cancer after this age.
Liz Carroll, Breast Cancer Care’s director of policy and research, tells BootsWebMD: "Most people get very, very good standards of care but what we do know is that, if you are much older, you don't often get the best quality care - whether that's through not getting to a GP soon enough because you don't know that you still need to be breast aware, because the screening process is finished or because not everybody, as an older woman particularly, gets offered as much choice in their treatment."