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Age discrimination rife in breast cancer treatment

Women over 80 are 40 times less likely to receive breast cancer surgery

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Older women with breast cancer are less likely to receive surgery, chemotherapy or radiotherapy to treat it, a charity has warned.

Breakthrough Breast Cancer says that research it has funded shows that some older patients are not benefiting from the advances in radiotherapy, chemotherapy and surgery over the last ten years that have dramatically improved the survival chances of younger patients.

As a result breast cancer patients aged over 80 years are 40 times less likely to receive surgery than younger patients, and older women who do receive surgery are significantly less likely to receive breast conserving surgery. Older women are also significantly less likely to receive standard treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy, than younger women.

At the launch of Breakthrough Breast Cancer’s Every Chance campaign in parliament today, which highlights the issue of age discrimination in breast cancer treatment, Professor Malcolm Reed, professor of surgical oncology at the University of Sheffield, said: "The past ten years have seen a significant improvement in survival for patients with cancer, particularly breast cancer. However older women have not shared in this improvement and there are concerns about the way this group of women are diagnosed and treated.

"We need to address this inequality as a priority by ensuring that access to diagnosis and treatment is improved whilst not losing sight of the importance of taking the overall health and wishes of each individual woman into account."

The risk of breast cancer increases with age and currently a third of all breast cancers occur in women aged 70 and over.

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