Breast cancer check-ups shouldn't stop at 70

Health
02 July 2018
A breast cancer charity has reminded women aged over 70 that they can still get a mammogram on the NHS.

Many women have the impression that breast cancer is something that is only likely happen in the years after the menopause has kicked in.

For that reason, it is commonly assumed that the 50-70 age range is the time when it is most important to get checked out. During this period, women are invited for a mammogram every three years. At the age of 70, the invites stop, so it is understandable if some think the danger period has passed.

However, while 50-70 may be the time of greatest vulnerability, the reality is that breast cancer is certainly not limited to a 20-year window. Not only can it develop during child-bearing years, but over-70s are also still at risk.

Be breast aware in your 70s and beyond

The charity Breast Cancer Care has sought to highlight this topic, noting that 51 per cent of women aged over 70 are not aware that they can go on having check-ups. Without the tri-yearly invitations, many women assume their days of mammography are over, but in fact they simply have to request one at any time to get checked again.

If all this sounds like a fog of confusion and misinformation, that's probably because it is.

Speaking to BBC Wales about the current system, Addie Mitchell, a clinical nurse specialist at Breast Cancer Care said: "It is crucial women know while routine invitations to screening stop at 70, this doesn't mean you're no longer at risk - as the biggest risk factors for breast cancer are being female and getting older."

"So women must be armed with the information they need to make an informed choice about requesting screening appointments after the age of 70 if they wish to do so."

The situation does differ depending where people live in the UK. In England, some breast screening centres are taking part in an experiment where they offer mammograms to an age range of 47-73. The Welsh government is monitoring the data from this trial in order to establish whether its screening policies should change.

A spokeswoman for the Welsh government said decisions will need to be based on "the best possible evidence". She added: "The results from the trial in England won't be known for a few years.

"The UK National Screening Committee will consider these findings when they'll be available and will advise all the screening programmes in the UK in line with that."

What to look out for

According to NHS figures, one in eight women get breast cancer at some point in their life, with most - but by no means all - cases occurring in patients aged over 50.

For this reason, it is important that women aged over 70 carry on self-examining. If you need any advice on how to do this, speak to your GP.

Obvious danger signs include lumps or thickened tissue. If you do encounter this, it does not automatically mean you will have cancer, but it is wise to see a doctor swiftly and book a mammogram.

Other possible signs include a discharge from the nipples, a rash in the vicinity of the nipples, sunken nipples, dimpling on the breast or a lump in your armpit. Pain in the breasts is not usually a sign of cancer, so for that you may want to check if you are wearing the right bra.

Those most at risk are heavy drinkers, the obese and, above all, women with a family history of the disease.

Treatment

The key point to note is that, as long as it is caught at an early stage, it is usually fairly easy to treat. Later diagnosis is another matter, of course, potentially requiring more aggressive surgery and chemotherapy or radiotherapy with all the associated side-effects.

Hormone treatments may also be used, depending on what kind of breast cancer it is.

The word cancer is always a scary one, but by carrying out regular health checks, you can be sure that if your breasts are affected, spotting it early means the odds of surviving will be stacked in your favour.

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