Page last updated at 23:27 GMT, Monday, 2 October 2006 00:27 UK

Over-70s do not seek breast scans

Breast screening
Women aged 50 to 70 are invited for screening in the UK

Nine out of 10 women aged over 70 have never asked for a breast scan even though they are most at risk of the cancer, a survey has found.

At present, women are called for screening every three years between the ages of 50 and 70.

However, older women also have a right to screening if they request it.

The survey, of over 2,200 over-50s, was carried out by the charity Breakthrough Breast Cancer, which wants a review of the upper limit for routine screening.

Only 2% thought the over-70s were most at risk
Two-thirds did not realise the risk of breast cancer increases past the age of 50
Almost a third of women aged over 50 hadn't checked their breasts in the last month
Over one in 10 women over 50 do not check their breasts at all

The charity is also calling for improvements in the way older women are made aware of their right to regular screening.

Lack of awareness

It said older women were being "cast adrift" because they were not aware of their right to continue screening.

More than a quarter (28%) of those women who had never asked for a scan thought they did not need to do so.

Almost all those surveyed, including 625 people aged over 70, were not aware that the over-70s were the most at-risk group.

Size or shape
Skin texture
Appearance or direction of the nipple
Discharge from the nipple
Rash or crusting of the nipple or surrounding area
Lump in breast or armpit
Lumpy area or unusual thickening of breast tissue that doesn't go away after a period
Pain in breast or armpit not related to period
Check anything unusual with your doctor

A third of the total 41,000 breast cancers diagnosed in the UK each year occur in women aged 70 and over.

Older women are also the least likely to check their breasts regularly, or to know what signs and symptoms of the disease to look out for.

Jeremy Hughes, Breakthrough Breast Cancer chief executive, said: "The self-referral system currently in place for women over 70 is clearly not working.

"Increasing age is the biggest risk factor for breast cancer, but screening and breast awareness messages do not appear to be reaching women over 70.

"More focus on raising awareness of screening amongst these women is needed and this must include improvements in the way messages are communicated."

The Advisory Committee on Breast Cancer Screening estimated earlier this year that the NHS breast cancer screening programme saves 1,400 lives a year.

The NHS Breast Screening Programme said over 46,000 women aged over 70 had attended for a breast scan last year.

New research

Research is currently under way to assess the merits of routine screening invitations for women over 70.

However, there are concerns that too few women would respond to make it worthwhile.

There is evidence that women in their seventies often have other health concerns, and may lack confidence in the benefits of screening.

Dr Lesley Walker, of the charity Cancer Research UK, said: "There does need to be some system in place which reminds women at their last screen that breast cancer risk remains, that they should carry on being breast aware and that they should ask their GP to continue to arrange mammography.

"Although breast cancer risk does increase with age, most cases of breast cancer happen in the 50-70 age group."

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