13 Jul 2015
Low awareness of non-lump breast cancer symptoms putting Leeds over 70s health at risk
- Latest Be Clear on Cancer in Leeds campaign urges women over 70 to be aware of breast cancer symptoms
- Approximately 30% of women diagnosed with breast cancer report a symptom other than a lump[i]
- However, when asked to name symptoms of breast cancer, only half of women aged 70 and over (48%) could name a symptom aside from a lump[ii]
- One in three women diagnosed with breast cancer each year are aged 70 and over[iii]
- Around 60 women aged 70 and over die from breast cancer in Leeds every year
Public Health England today launches 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 159 women aged 70 and over in Leeds are diagnosed with breast cancer each year. Nationally, approximately 30% of all women diagnosed with breast cancer report a symptom other than a lump.1 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.2
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.[iv] 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.[v] 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.[vi]
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).[vii] This equates to around 15 women aged 70 and over dying from breast cancer in England every day.
Last year 503 of women in Yorkshire and the Humber 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.[viii] This figure drops to just 13% for those diagnosed at the most advanced stage.8
Dr Ian Cameron, Leeds City Council Director of Public Health, said:
“We know early diagnosis makes a considerable difference for successful treatment of breast cancer. That is why we’re supporting the Be Clear on Cancer campaign, to help women in Leeds look after their health and get the help they need if there is a potential problem.”
Professor Dame Sally Davies, Chief Medical Officer, 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 launches today, Monday 13 July, and will run for eight weeks. For more information on the signs and symptoms of breast cancer please visit nhs.uk/breastcancer70.
[i] Nosarti, Caryford, Roberts, Elias, McKenzie and David (2000). Delay in presentation of symptomatic referrals to a breast cancer clinic: Patient and system factors. British Journal of Cancer, 82(3), 742-748
[ii] Face to face omnibus survey with a representative survey of 731 women aged 40+ in England, conducted by TNS BMRB in March 2014
[iii] Average number of cases of female breast cancer (ICD-10: C50) diagnosed in England between 2009-2013. Data provided by National Cancer Registration Service, Public Health England and analysed by West Midlands Knowledge and Information Team, Public Health England, April 2015
[iv] Ramirez, Westcombe, Burgess, Sutton, Littlejohns and Richards (1999). Factors predicting delayed presentation of symptomatic breast cancer: a systematic review. Lancet: 3;353(9159), 1127-31
[v] Face to face omnibus survey with a representative survey of 731 women aged 40+ in England, conducted by TNS BMRB in March 2014
[vi] Data from the National Cancer Waiting Times (CWT) Monitoring Dataset provided by NHS England and accessed by Public Health England’s National Cancer Intelligence Network,
[vii] Average number of deaths of female breast cancer (ICD-10: C50) registered in England between 2009-2013. Data provided by Office of National Statistics and analysed by West Midlands Knowledge and Information Team, Public Health England, April 2015
[viii] Survival is relative period survival supplied by West Midlands Knowledge and Intelligence Team based on National Cancer Registration Service data. Five-year relative survival is based upon staged 2004-2008 diagnoses. Data provided by National Cancer Registration Service, Public Health England and analysed by West Midlands Knowledge and Information Team, Public Health England, April 2015
[ix] Face to face omnibus survey with a representative survey of 731 women aged 40+ in England, conducted by TNS BMRB in March 2014
[x] British Journal of Cancer (2009) 101, S115–S124. doi:10.1038/sj.bjc.6605401. Published online 3 December 2009. Access via: http://www.nature.com/bjc/journal/v101/n2s/full/6605401a.html
Notes to editors
Public Health England exists to protect and improve the nation's health and wellbeing, and reduce health inequalities. It does this through world-class science, knowledge and intelligence, advocacy, partnerships and the delivery of specialist public health services. PHE is an operationally autonomous executive agency of the Department of Health. Website: www.gov.uk/phe. Twitter: @PHE_uk, Facebook: www.facebook.com/PublicHealthEngland
Be Clear on Cancer campaigns are run by Public Health England, in partnership with the Department of Health and NHS England.
The Be Clear on Cancer campaign is part of the National Awareness and Early Diagnosis Initiative, run in partnership with Cancer Research UK, to improve England’s cancer survival rates.
Early diagnosis of cancer is a major priority for this Government in helping us to improve cancer survival. Be Clear on Cancer campaigns, which aim to raise public awareness of the symptoms of cancer and encourage earlier presentation, form an integral part of the Public Health England Marketing Plan for 2014-17 which was published in July 2014.
Breast cancer symptoms
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
When asked to name symptoms of breast cancer, only half (48%) of women aged 70 and over could name a symptom that isn’t a lump. Knowledge of other breast cancer symptoms is higher amongst those aged 40 – 69, with 73% able to name at least one non-lump symptom. [i]
The campaign will use a mixture of TV, press, digital and out of home advertising. Leaflets will also be distributed through outlets such as GP surgeries.
The Be Clear on Cancer ‘breast cancer in women over 70’ campaign was piloted regionally in the Midlands at the beginning of 2013 and first ran nationally from 3 February to 16 March 2014. When comparing February – April 2012 with February – April 2014, the results for women aged 70 and over show a statistically significant 25% increase in the number of breast cancers diagnosed via an urgent GP referral for suspected breast cancer.
Additional breast cancer facts:
- The UK has the 5th highest incidence and 11th highest mortality rate in the EU. It has been estimated that around 2,000 deaths from breast cancer could be avoided in England each year if survival matched the best in Europe.[ii]
- The key risk factor in breast cancer is sex: more than 99% of all breast cancers are diagnosed in women. Age is also an important risk factor, with around 1 in 3 cases being diagnosed in women aged 70 or older.
- Being overweight is the biggest lifestyle risk for female breast cancer, accounting for nearly 1 in 10 cases.
Communications and Marketing team
Leeds City Council
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Leeds City Council Communications team