NHS England urged to tackle ageism in cancer care

Older women with breast cancer are less likely to receive treatment, claims new report

Older women with breast cancer are less likely to receive treatment, claims new report

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The NHS in England must not be complacent about ageism in breast cancer care, a report says.

The review, by the think tank the International Longevity Centre UK, identifies several concerning findings, including that older patients are more likely to have late diagnoses and be denied treatments, such as chemotherapy.

They are also less likely to have their pain managed.

The report states that there are ‘clearly potentially justifiable reasons’ for some of the different approaches towards the care of older people given they are more likely to have co-morbidities.

It also praises some of the attempts to tackle this issue, citing the 2015 Public Health England and Cancer Research UK campaign encouraging women aged over 70 to be aware of the risks of breast cancer.

The report also states that the attitudes of some older people may contribute to their poorer outcomes, given that one in five say they never self-check.

But the think tank said there is still enough evidence to suggest ageist attitudes affect care, intentionally or not.

Age discrimination

These findings come as a separate report in Lancet Public Health found one quarter of people aged over 50 had experienced age discrimination.

Of those surveyed, 41% said discrimination had occurred in medical settings, the University College London researchers said.

International Longevity Centre UK director of programmes Kate Jopling said there can be ‘no room for complacency’ over this issue.

She called on the NHS to get better at monitoring and collecting data on the care older people receive.

RCN cancer and breast care forum chair and University of Stirling associate professor in cancer nursing Susanne Cruickshank said the fact clinical trials often exclude people aged over 65 does not help the situation, as clinicians do not always have an "accurate idea of what treatments work on these populations’.

But she added all cancer staff need to consider their own roles.

‘The key thing for me is talk to the patient, and go through all the pros and cons of a treatment. Be honest, so they can make a fully-informed decision about their care.’

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