Public Health England Campaign – Breast Cancer in Women over 70

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Public Health England today (Monday 13 July 2015) is launching a ‘Be Clear on Cancer’ campaign aimed at women aged 70 and over to drive awareness of the risk of breast cancer amongst this age group and to increase their knowledge of lesser-known breast cancer symptoms.

Around 1,800 women aged 70 and over in the South West are diagnosed with breast cancer each year. Nationally, approximately 30% of all women diagnosed with breast cancer report a symptom other than a lump. However, research shows that when asked to name symptoms of breast cancer, only half of women over 70 (48%) could name a symptom aside from a lump. 

Despite older women being at an increased risk of breast cancer, they are also more likely to delay going to their GP with breast cancer symptoms. This year’s campaign activity will reinforce the message ‘don’t assume you’re past it’, urging older women to visit their doctor straight away if they notice any unusual or persistent changes to their breasts such as a lump or a change to a nipple or to the skin or the shape of a breast.

The campaign first launched nationally in early 2014 and research shows that it successfully raised awareness that the risk of breast cancer increases with age. Promising results show a 25% increase in the number of breast cancers diagnosed in women aged 70 and over following an urgent GP referral for suspected breast cancer during the campaign period compared with the same period two years earlier.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women in England, with around 41,200 women diagnosed every year.3 National figures show that around 9,500 women die from breast cancer each year and over half of these are women aged 70 and over (5,400). This equates to around 15 women aged 70 and over dying from breast cancer in England every day.

In 2013, 684 women in the South West died of breast cancer.

Early diagnosis of breast cancer is crucial and means treatment is more likely to be successful. If breast cancer is diagnosed at the earliest stage in women aged 70 and over, 93% will live for at least another five years. This figure drops to just 13% for those diagnosed at the most advanced stage.

Possible signs of breast cancer include:

  • A lump or thickening in your breast or armpit
  • Changes to the skin of your breast
  • Changes in the shape or size of your breast
  • Nipple changes
  • Nipple discharge
  • Pain in your breast
  • Any other unusual or persistent changes to your breasts

Professor Debra Lapthorne, Centre Director for Public Health England South West comments:

“You are never too old to get breast cancer. It is not always a lump and women should look out for any changes in the shape of the breast, a change to a nipple or to the skin.

“Spotting the signs of cancer early is very important so if women are concerned about any breast cancer symptoms they should contact their GP straight away.”

Virginia Wade, OBE, British former professional tennis player is supporting the campaign and comments:

“I’ve just turned 70, which makes this campaign really relevant to me and women like me. The statistics speak for themselves, one in three women who get breast cancer are over 70.

“Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women in England. Sadly everyone knows someone who has been touched by breast cancer, which is why I’m supporting this campaign. I want to say to all women over 70: don’t assume you’re past it. If you notice any changes to your breasts, tell your doctor. We’re not just talking about a lump – symptoms of breast cancer could also be changes to your breast shape, size, skin or nipple.

“Family and friends – please do encourage loved ones to seek medical help if they say they have symptoms or have noticed any changes.  Some women feel they are too old for certain things, but unfortunately breast cancer isn’t one of them.”


Diana Moran, Health Writer and International Fitness Expert comments:

“I know first-hand the effects that breast cancer can have. I was 47 when I was diagnosed with breast cancer and my advice hasn’t changed – get to know your breasts and recognise if there are any changes. The older you get, the more important it is to be aware of your body. You’ll be as surprised as I was to hear that one in three women who are diagnosed with breast cancer are over 70.

“If you do notice a change in your breasts, whether it’s a lump, discharge or a skin change, go and see your GP as soon as you can. The chances are that it’s nothing serious!  But it might be something that needs attention and if diagnosed earlier, treatment can be a lot more successful.”

The nationwide Be Clear on Cancer ‘breast cancer in women over 70’ campaign will launch on Monday 13 July and run for eight weeks. For more information on the signs and symptoms of breast cancer please visit