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Age no barrier in breast cancer

BRITTANY MANN
Last updated 19:00 08/04/2014
Lorraine Downes and her mother
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PERSONAL EXPERIENCE: Lorraine Downes, right, and her mother, Glad, are fronting the Screen 70+ campaign.

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Ninety per cent of New Zealand women fail to realise that when it comes to age, breast cancer doesn't discriminate.

Despite the risk of breast cancer increasing with age, most women believed their risk decreased when their free mammograms stopped at age 69, a study commissioned by the New Zealand Breast Cancer Foundation has shown.

"Ninety per cent of women don't realise their breast-cancer risk is higher in their 70s than it was in their 50s," foundation chief executive Van Henderson said.

The foundation recommended women continued with mammograms every two years into their 70s because they were increasingly likely to live up to 20 years after their last free mammogram.

Age was the second-highest risk factor for breast cancer. Though the cancers were often slower growing in older women, early detection gave the best chance of survival.

Because of the lack of awareness and the often prohibitive cost of private mammograms, the foundation wants the Government to increase funding to BreastScreen Aotearoa to offer women free mammograms up to age 74. This policy was implemented in Australia last year.

In the meantime, Henderson said she would ask private clinics to offer discounted mammograms to women over 70, with the current cost ranging from $145 to $195.

"That's a lot of money for most people," Henderson said.

The study, carried out by Colmar Brunton, is the basis for the foundation's new educational campaign aimed at women over 70.

Screen 70+ is fronted by former Miss Universe Lorraine Downes and her mother, Glad, who was diagnosed with breast cancer aged 76 in 2012. She has since undergone successful treatment.

Lorraine Downes said she and her sisters had been shocked when they found out about their mother's cancer.

"Like Mum, we thought because of her age, she was in a safe zone, and we didn't realise women still got breast cancer in their 70s."

To help women over 70 decide whether to continue with mammograms, the foundation has launched an online decision aid.

Screen70+ looks at a woman's overall health, life expectancy and breast-cancer risk, and the benefits and drawbacks of screening.

The aid was developed as a result of Harvard Medical School research and is available at www.nzbcf.org.nz/OlderWomen.


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