One in 3 women diagnosed with breast cancer in England each year are aged 70 or over. This age group also accounts for more than half of all breast cancer deaths annually, latest figures show. This age group also accounts for more than half of all breast cancer deaths annually, latest figures show.

This comes as Public Health England launches a new national Be Clear on Cancer campaign to remind older women ‘don’t assume you’re past it’, and to visit their doctor if they spot any changes in their breasts. 

Surprisingly, two thirds of women aged 70 and over (67%) wrongly think women of all ages are equally likely to get breast cancer, when in fact a woman’s risk of breast cancer increases with age.

Around 13,500 women aged 70 and over are diagnosed with breast cancer in England each year, yet survival rates are lower in this age group compared to younger women. Lack of awareness of symptoms other than a lump, such as changes in the shape or size of the breast, is believed to be one of the reasons for this, which the campaign aims to change.

The earlier breast cancer is diagnosed, the higher the chance of survival – more than 90% of all women diagnosed with the earliest stage survive for at least 5 years. This figure is around 15% for women diagnosed at a late stage.

Dr Yvonne Doyle, Regional Director at Public Health England, said: “Research shows that women over 70 have low awareness of breast cancer symptoms, other than a lump. They’re also more likely to delay presenting to their GP with breast cancer, which could ultimately affect their chance of survival. One in 3 women who get breast cancer are over 70 , so don’t assume you’re past it or dismiss any symptoms as a sign of ageing.”

The Be Clear on Cancer campaign will see new national adverts running on TV and in the press from today until 16 March.

Chief Medical Officer Professor Dame Sally Davies said: “I welcome the Be Clear on Cancer campaign as it is crucial in ensuring that women over 70 are aware of the symptoms of breast cancer and are diagnosed early. More than 13,000 women over 70 are diagnosed with breast cancer each year, accounting for more than half of all breast cancer deaths. Survival rates from this disease decrease with age; however, awareness of symptoms and risk is low amongst this age group, meaning these women are more likely to be diagnosed at a late stage. The earlier breast cancer is diagnosed, the better the chance of survival.”

Sean Duffy, National Clinical Director at NHS England, said: “The fact is women 70 and over are more likely to be diagnosed at a late stage, compared to younger women. When we look at other countries such as Sweden, it is clear that we are losing far too many older women to breast cancer. In 2009 it was estimated that around 2,000 deaths from the disease could be avoided each year in England if survival rates matched the best in Europe. Whilst we have made good progress in the last decade, we are still lagging behind our international counterparts. This latest Be Clear on Cancer campaign has an important role to play in helping increase symptom awareness levels, early diagnoses and, ultimately, survival rates.”