Most older women want more information about breast cancer and want to continue to be invited to breast screening, according to the results of a survey published in the British Journal of Cancer today.
The survey, completed by 400 women aged 70 and over, found that 75 per cent felt they would benefit from continued breast screening and would attend screening if invited every three years. In the UK all women between the ages of 50-70* are invited for breast screening every three years. Once a woman reaches 70 she can request to continue to have screening, with information about this supplied at her final screening.
But most women surveyed had not attended screening after they turned 70 and had assumed that breast screening was no longer necessary as they had not received an invitation. Just over half were unaware that they could request ongoing screening.
Those interviewed wanted increased information about the benefits and risks of screening to make informed decisions about whether to attend. But around a fifth of women simply ‘did not want to be bothered’ with breast screening at their age.
The results also indicated that only specific breast cancer symptoms such as a lump or tenderness would alert women to see their GP but would not follow up less common signs such as dimpling of the skin or a change in the shape of the nipple.
Lynda Wyld, a consultant surgeon at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital in Sheffield and study leader, said: “We need to make information about screening clear and readily available for women over 70, so that they can make an informed choice. It’s clear from our results that older women want to have the power to make informed decisions about whether to attend screening.”
There have been conflicting studies about the benefits of screening in older women – other causes of death in this age group may mean early detection is less likely to make a difference. But research has shown that screening does result in the diagnosis of smaller, earlier stage cancers in older women and a significantly reduced mastectomy rate.
Sarah Woolnough, head of policy at Cancer Research UK, said: “We believe that more must be done by governments, the health service and charities to ensure that older women are well informed about their risk of breast cancer, the screening programme and the treatment options available to them. We want health professionals to be more proactive in telling women that they can ask for a mammogram after they stop getting invitations and explaining the pros and cons.”
For media enquiries please contact the Cancer Research UK press office on 020 7061 8300 or, out-of-hours, the duty press officer on 07050 264 059.
Collins, K., et al. The views of older women towards mammographic screening: a qualitative and quantitative study, (2010). British Journal of Cancer
*The NHS Breast Screening Programme is extending breast screening to cover women from 47-73 in England by the end of 2010. It is currently open in five pilot sites and will be extended to a further six in the coming months.