One in three women diagnosed with breast cancer are over 70. Woman’s Weekly in partnership with Be Clear on Cancer explain the signs to look out for
80-year-old Shirine Oade was 75 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. ‘At 75 I thought I was past getting breast cancer,’ she says. ‘I led a healthy lifestyle, wasn’t overweight, didn’t drink much alcohol and exercised a lot. I had no idea risk increases with age.’
Shirine went to see her GP straight away after noticing a feeling of weight on her right breast.
‘I knew to look out for any changes – my breast felt thicker under the nipple,’ explains Shirine. ‘I asked my husband Richard to see if he could feel anything. He agreed there was something there, so I called my GP straight away.
‘My GP referred me to the breast clinic at London’s Royal Free Hospital the next day where I had an X-ray and biopsy. Breast cancer was diagnosed and my consultant advised a mastectomy. Five days later, I was in surgery and the cancer was removed.
‘It was a comfort to be in safe hands,’ she adds. ‘I felt as if the NHS I’d worked for as a health visitor all those years ago was now looking after me.’
Five years on, Shirine is still on hormone therapy and has regular six-monthly blood tests and mammograms.
‘I’m lucky I spotted the signs early and I’d like to urge other women to be breast aware,’ she advises. ‘Don’t think you’re not at risk because you’re over 70.’
Despite older women being at an increased risk of breast cancer, they are also more likely to delay going to their GP with symptoms. It’s important to be breast aware and get to know how your breasts look and feel normally, so that you’ll find it easier to spot something unusual.
Possible signs of breast cancer include:
- A lump or thickening in the breast or armpit
- Changes to the skin of the breast
- Changes in your breast shape or size
- Nipple changes
- Nipple discharge
- Pain in the breast
- Any other unusual or persistent changes to the breasts
If you have any of these symptoms, your doctor will want to see you.
‘Like Shirine, many older women don’t realise they are still at risk,’ explains Dr Melanie Wynne-Jones, GP. ‘Women may also be unaware that a lump is not the only sign, and other changes may be a sign of breast cancer even if you can’t feel a lump.
‘Other symptoms include any thickening in the breast or armpit, changes to the shape, size or skin of the breast, changes to the nipple or discharge, pain or anything else unusual. If you spot any changes, you should see your GP straight away.’
Women between the ages of 50 and 70 are invited for screening every three years. Screening can detect breast cancer at an earlier stage. If you’re over 70 you can ask for free screening every three years. Find your local unit at nhs.uk/breastscreening, and visit nhs.uk/breast- screening-programme.