One in three women who get breast cancer are over 70. Woman's Weekly in partnership with Be Clear on Cancer explain why it’s vital to know the signs
Breast cancer is the most common cancer affecting women in England. Older women may think they’re past getting breast cancer, but the truth is one in three women diagnosed with breast cancer are aged 70 and over.
Paddy Jones was 81 when she went to her doctor with a shoulder injury. He spotted a dip in her upper right breast, which felt harder and different in texture, and made an appointment for her at the local NHS breast clinic.
Following an examination, a mammogram and biopsy, Paddy was diagnosed with breast cancer.
‘It came as a shock because I thought I was past having to worry about breast cancer,’ Paddy says. ‘Although I’d lost weight, I felt completely normal, led a healthy life, wasn’t overweight and only had an occasional drink. I hadn’t realised the risk increased with age.’
Paddy was happy to take her consultant’s advice to have a mastectomy, and was pleased to hear that she didn’t need any follow up treatment.
‘I had lots of support from the NHS, including bra inserts and a comfort cushion to help me sleep,’ she says.
Nine months on, Paddy’s life is back to normal – shopping, cooking, pottering in the garden and seeing friends and family.
‘I’d urge other women to be breast aware and know what’s normal for them, no matter how old they are,’ Paddy advises.
Despite older women being at an increased risk of breast cancer, they are also more likely to delay going to their GP with symptoms. Don’t assume you’re past it if you’re over 70.
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.
‘As in Paddy’s case, any changes in the breast area may be a sign of breast cancer,’ explains Dr Melanie Wynne-Jones, GP.
‘So women of all ages need to be breast aware and look out for 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 as soon as possible.’
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.