Entrepreneur Pinky Lilani and journalist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown urge Asian women over 70 to be aware of non-lump breast cancer symptoms
One in three women diagnosed with breast cancer each year are aged 70 and over
The Founder of the Asian Women of Achievement Awards, Pinky Lilani and Journalist, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown are supporting Public Health England’s ‘Be Clear on Cancer’ breast cancer campaign aimed at women aged 70 and over.
The campaign which coincides with Cancer Equality’s Ethnic Minority Cancer Awareness Month aims to drive awareness of the risk of breast cancer amongst this age group and to increase their knowledge of lesser-known breast cancer symptoms which could include:
• Changes to the skin of your breast
• Changes in the shape or size of your breast or nipple
• Nipple discharge
• Pain in your breast
• Any unusual or persistent changes to your breasts
Around 13,400 women aged 70 and over are diagnosed with breast cancer each year, accounting for a third of all breast cancer cases. 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 and for older Asian women there are often cultural, religious and language issues that can cause delay.
Pinky Lilani, CBE DL, Founder of the Asian Women of Achievement Awards says:
“We know there are cultural taboos and embarrassment associated with the discussion and education about breast cancer amongst older Asian women but the truth is as Asian women we need to talk about the risk and symptoms of breast cancer more openly to increase our understanding of the disease.
A lump isn’t the only symptom that is important to know about; other symptoms of breast cancer could also include changes to your breast shape, size, skin or nipple.
I want to encourage Asian women over 70 to pay attention to their breasts. If you notice any changes to your breasts make sure you tell your doctor straight away.”
Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, Journalist and Author says:
“Sadly everyone knows someone who has been touched by breast cancer and that’s why we as Asian women cannot afford to ignore the statistic – one in three women who get breast cancer are over 70. If you’re over 70 don’t assume you’re past it or dismiss any symptoms as a sign of ageing and most importantly don’t be afraid to tell your doctor.
I’d like to appeal to younger Asian women to engage older female members of their families in conversations about breast cancer to help detect the disease early so that more lives can be saved.”
Dr Ann Hoskins, Public Health England Deputy Director, Health and Wellbeing says
“This campaign aims to target women aged 70 and over, as we know that many women of this age group are unaware of the risk breast cancer poses to them. They also tend to have lower knowledge of the symptoms of breast cancer, and are not necessarily looking at or feeling their breasts so are less likely to detect change.
“This campaign emphasises that a lump is not the only sign of breast cancer and women should tell their GP if they notice any changes to their breasts. Other possible signs of breast cancer include nipple changes and changes to the skin of the 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. 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.8
Debashis Ghosh, Consultant Breast & Oncoplastic Surgeon, Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust, says:
“I’ve performed surgery on women over the age of 70 and always tell women that breast cancer is more treatable if found early. 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.
As a surgeon, I’m delighted to be supporting the Be Clear on Cancer campaign because the earlier we can diagnose cancer, the more treatment options we can offer our patients.”
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.
Notes to editors
1. 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
2. Be Clear on Cancer campaigns are run by Public Health England, in partnership with the Department of Health and NHS England.
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. 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
6. 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. 3
7. 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.
• 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.
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1 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
2 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
3 Face to face omnibus survey with a representative survey of 731 women aged 40+ in England, conducted by TNS BMRB in March 2014
4 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
5 Face to face omnibus survey with a representative survey of 731 women aged 40+ in England, conducted by TNS BMRB in March 2014
6 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,
7 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
8 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
9 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