Press release

Public Health England launches nationwide breast cancer campaign

Low awareness of non-lump breast cancer symptoms is putting the health of women over 70 at risk.

Public Health England (PHE) today (13 July 2015) launches a nationwide ‘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 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. 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 2 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.

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 5 years. This figure drops to just 13% for those diagnosed at the most advanced stage.

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, 1 in 3 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 1 in 3 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.

Dr Ann Hoskins, PHE 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.

Dr Jenny Harries, PHE Regional Director, South of England notes:

We welcome the Be Clear on Cancer campaign returning this year. When comparing figures for the first campaign in 2014 with the same period 2 years earlier, there was a 25% increase in the number of breast cancers diagnosed via an urgent GP referral.

Around 5,400 women aged 70 and over still die from breast cancer in England each year, so it is absolutely vital that women are properly informed of their risk. It has been estimated that across all age groups around 2,000 deaths from breast cancer could be avoided each year in England if survival rates matched the best in Europe. This latest Be Clear on Cancer campaign has an important role to play in helping increase symptom awareness levels and earlier diagnosis.

Media Medic, Dr Dawn Harper comments:

Breast cancer affects women of all ages, but it’s the number of those over 70 being diagnosed and the fact that some women delay visiting their GP which is worrying. It is extremely important to seek medical advice if you have any concerns about unusual changes to your breasts and encourage others to do so too. Anyone that visits us will not be wasting our time, as GPs it’s what we’re there for. If you do have breast cancer, the earlier it is found treatment is more likely to be successful and can lead to a better outcome.

Mr Steven Thrush, consultant breast surgeon, Worcestershire Acute NHS Trusts:

Over the last 12 months I have performed surgery on women who have been prompted to get their symptoms checked because of the Be Clear on Cancer campaign. As a surgeon, I am delighted with this, because the earlier we can diagnose cancer, the more treatment options we can offer our patients.

Sean Duffy, National Clinical Director for Cancer at NHS England, said:

Early diagnosis of cancer is absolutely critical to improving survival. Part of this is helping people understand what symptoms to look out for, which is why campaigns like this are so important.

Patients with possible early signs and symptoms should visit their GP so where necessary they can be referred for tests, and treatment can start quickly. Early diagnosis is a key focus for us and will form part of the NHS’s new plan for cancer, currently being developed by an independent taskforce.

Richard Sutton, breast cancer surgeon at Royal United Hospital Bath, says:

I often hear my patients say how they delayed going to their GP. They may not think their symptom is serious, they may be embarrassed or didn’t want to waste the GPs time. Most people are aware that a lump in the breast could be a symptom of cancer, but they don’t know that changes to the skin of the breast or the nipple could also be signs of cancer.

As a specialist surgeon it concerns me that the awareness of the importance of these symptoms is even lower amongst older women. The risk of developing breast cancer increases with age, so don’t dismiss any persistent or unusual changes to your breasts as a sign of aging, speak to your GP – finding breast cancer early makes it more treatable and could save your life.

The nationwide Be Clear on Cancer ‘breast cancer in women over 70’ campaign will launch on Monday 13 July and run for 8 weeks. For more information on the signs and symptoms of breast cancer please visit nhs.uk/breastcancer70.

Background

  • PHE 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. www.gov.uk/phe. Follow us on Twitter: @PHE_uk or Facebook: www.facebook.com/PublicHealthEngland.

  • Be Clear on Cancer campaigns are run by PHE, 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 PHE Marketing Plan for 2014 to 2017 which was published in July 2014.

  • 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 to 69, with 73% able to name at least one non-lump symptom.

  • 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 to April 2012 with February to 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 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.

Additional quotes:

  • Sara Hiom, Director of Early Diagnosis and Cancer Intelligence, Cancer Research UK, says:

This campaign highlights 2 important facts that aren’t well known - that breast cancer isn’t just about lumps, and that older women are most at risk. We hope these latest Be Clear on Cancer adverts will encourage women, especially older ones, to tell their GP about any unusual or persistent changes to their breasts, be that a lump, or something else like discharge, or a change to the skin or nipple. An early diagnosis, regardless of age, usually makes breast cancer more treatable.

  • Samia al Qadhi, Chief Executive of Breast Cancer Care, says:

The sooner breast cancer is diagnosed, the more effective treatment may be, so we welcome this vital campaign to raise awareness among women over 70. Many women don’t realise that the risk of developing the disease actually increases with age and many older women don’t feel confident about checking for symptoms. Knowing your breasts and regularly looking for unusual changes can help spot cancer early, so it’s crucial that information and support is provided. The more women we can reach with Be Clear on Cancer, the better.

  • Actress Barbara Windsor, said:

It is great to be supporting a campaign which brings to attention the subject of breast cancer in the over 70s. Breast cancer can often be seen as something which is more common in younger women, but as the campaign highlights, 1 in 3 women diagnosed with breast cancer in England each year are aged 70 or over. I’m in my 70s and my advice has always been, and will, never change – be breast aware and tell your doctor if you’re concerned about any potential signs of breast cancer. The more we can get the message out there to each other, the more women could be saved.

Public Health England press office