Women 'missing out on cancer drugs due to age'
Published on 01 March 2013 11:30 AM
Some women are being denied basic breast cancer treatment because of their age, according to new research.
The findings show that potentially lifesaving drugs are being held back based on age rather than if people are fit enough to benefit from the treatment.
Women over the age of 70 have a one in seven chance of receiving chemotherapy, despite it being the standard course of treatment for younger patients.
There is also an alarming gap in over-70 survival rates in Britain compared to other developed nations.
Britain is 12% behind Sweden in this age group, for example.
The figures, which were revealed by two separate studies, have led to claims that the NHS is not treating women in a "fair and equal way".
One study, completed by the University of Sussex and Brighton & Sussex Medical School, revealed that only 14% of over-70s with early breast cancer have chemotherapy after surgery.
This means older women could also be missing out on some benefits from the drug Herceptin, which works best in combination with chemotherapy.
Results also showed that for almost a third of cases doctors decided how to treat patients aged 70 and over without recording their fitness or testing their HER2 status.
This can help to determine if they are among the 20% who might respond to Herceptin.
The research, funded by drug firm Roche, showed that some hospitals did not give chemotherapy to any patients over the age of 70.
Out of the 45% of patients that had a high risk of breast cancer returning, less than a third were given the opportunity to have chemotherapy.
Alarming gap in over-70 survival rates in Britain
A second study in the British Journal of Cancer reveals that Britain has the biggest gap in age-related survival rates for breast cancer.
Although the rates fall for over-70s across the board, the difference is the most marked in the UK.
Only 42% of British women aged 70 and over live for another year after being diagnosed, compared with 60% of younger women.
The research, completed at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, examined data for 257,362 women from 2000 and 2007 and discovered that over-70s are missing out on aggressive treatments.
Baroness Delyth Morgan, chief executive of the charity Breast Cancer Campaign, highlighted that almost a third of breast cancer cases are for women over 70.
She added that this is likely to increase due to an ageing population so it is important that consistent care is provided to all women, whatever their age.
Michelle Mitchell, Charity Director General at Age UK, said: 'Life expectancy rates of older people with cancer in the UK are currently significantly shorter than those of other European countries and this urgently needs to change.
'We know that older people can experience discrimination within the NHS and that the chances of receiving high quality care are all too often stacked against them. Age discrimination has now been outlawed in the NHS and an individual's date of birth should not be a means to determine their suitability for medical interventions.
'With the majority of people who use cancer services being older it is essential that these services are designed around them and are based on their needs.'
Copyright Press Association 2013