Older women with breast cancer are far less likely to undergo lifesaving treatments, a major audit has shown.
While 96 % of patients aged 50 to 69 have surgery to remove tumours, this falls to 76 % for those over 70.
They are also half as likely to have chemotherapy, figures compiled by the Royal College of Surgeons show.
A total of 61 % of women with a type of breast cancer that responds to chemotherapy were offered the treatment but this fell to 23 % for those over 70.
The Royal College of Surgeons urged cancer specialists to tailor women’s treatment to their overall health and preferences rather than their age.
The figures are from the National Audit of Breast Cancer in Older Patients, carried out jointly by the Royal College of Surgeons and the Association of Breast Surgery.
Professor Kieran Horgan, lead surgeon on the audit, said: ‘This audit provides the clearest picture yet of the treatments that older women with breast cancer receive at NHS hospitals in England and Wales.
‘It also highlights a number of differences in the type of treatments that older women undergo, compared to younger women.
‘In some instances, it is not appropriate for an older woman to have surgery, radiotherapy or chemotherapy.
‘However, all women should be offered treatment that is tailored to their type of tumour, general state of health and individual preferences. The results of the audit should remind every NHS hospital in England and Wales to ensure that all their patients are being offered the most effective breast cancer treatment for them, regardless of their age.’
Professor David Dodwell, a senior breast cancer consultant who was also involved in the audit, said: ‘Older women often have different needs to younger patients as they may be less suitable for surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy.
‘However, we still need to find out more about the reasons why some older women are not undergoing these treatments.
‘This audit will provide information to breast cancer services, which will help them to ensure care is delivered more consistently to older women across the country.’
A separate study earlier this month found older women in the UK were far less likely to undergo lifesaving treatment for breast cancer compared with those in other European countries.
The Dutch research found survival rates in the UK were lagging behind those in Ireland, Poland and the Netherlands.
Charities said there was an ‘unconscious bias’ among doctors that women over 70 may be too frail for some treatment.
Baroness Delyth Morgan, of the charity Breast Cancer Now, said: ‘These worrying findings add further evidence that unconscious ageism has crept into the way women over 70 are treated for breast cancer.’
She added concerns that many older breast cancer patients are being denied treatments that could benefit them ‘simply cannot be ignored any longer’.
© Daily Mail