Older women with breast cancer are having their lives put at risk by age discrimination in the NHS, experts warned yesterday.
They are less likely to be diagnosed or given surgery on the NHS than younger patients – and have a worse chance of being offered proper treatment.
Now cancer specialists have demanded action from health watchdogs to ensure that victims receive the best possible care, irrespective of their age.
In a national survey, nine out of 10 specialists, said they think women over 65 are at risk of losing out on treatments such as drug therapy, surgery and chemotherapy. More than half of the 133 doctors said older women were at risk of being excluded from drugs, and 50% said they were at risk of losing out on surgery. And six out of 10 added they were in danger of not getting standard diagnostic treatment and services at their health trust.
Report author Professor Robert Leonard, of Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, said: ‘Older women with breast cancer are not receiving the best care from the NHS on all occasions, and this is simply not acceptable.
‘Each day, older patients are at risk of sub-optimal treatment and care for their early breast cancer, at a stage of the disease when treatment is given with the intention to cure the cancer.’
Maggie Alexander, director of policy at the Breakthrough Breast Cancer charity, said the findings were a ‘cause for concern’.
‘This research suggests inconsistency in treatment based on age. We believe all breast cancer patients should have access to the services, treatments and care that will benefit them,’ she said.
‘These opinions give us great cause for concern. Every woman, regardless of age, should be given the best possible chance to beat this disease.’
The call for improved care comes as 92 per cent of specialists taking part in the survey said that patients aged 65 and above are at risk of exclusion from chemotherapy treatment. In addition, 52 per cent said such patients were at risk of not receiving targeted cancer drugs such as trastuzumab (Herceptin). Half also felt they were at risk of exclusion from primary surgery for their cancer.
Sixty per cent of doctors said older patients with breast cancer were not given access to standard diagnostic and treatment services at the health trust or area where they work. Nearly every doctor – 94 per cent – wanted to see minimum standards of care incorporated into guidance from NICE and the SMC.
A NICE spokesman said yesterday: ‘The clinical guidelines for the diagnosis and management of early and advanced breast cancer are relevant to all patients, regardless of age.’
Earlier this year, Breakthrough Breast Cancer found older patients were not benefiting from advances in radiotherapy, chemotherapy and surgery which have dramatically improved the survival chances of younger patients with a similar diagnosis.
Their study showed that just 16 per cent of women over 65 received chemotherapy compared with 77 per cent under 50.
A Department of Health spokesperson said: ‘Older people should receive the same treatment on the NHS as any other patient. We are working with Macmillan Cancer Support to help clinicians make better assessments of older people’s ability to benefit from treatment. We are determined to achieve intervention rates among older people that are comparable to the best in the world.’
The majority of breast cancers in the UK are in women over 60.
Article from The Daily Mail