In February 2018, Public Health England launched a national campaign aimed at raising awareness of the symptoms of breast cancer in women aged 70 and over.
Be Clear on Cancer aims to help improve early diagnosis of cancer by raising awareness of symptoms and encouraging people to see their GP without delay.
Here, Salford resident Jenny tells her story about why it is so important to be aware of the signs of breast cancer and what to do if you are worried.
Jenny is 74 and lives in Walkden.
When she went to her first breast screening session, in 1996, aged 53, a lump was discovered. Not what any woman wants to hear, but fortunately it was caught early.
She was asked to attend the Nightingale Centre, based at Withington Hospital at that time, to see a consultant. After examination she was taken into Withington Hospital within a fortnight and was operated on. She had a lumpectomy and all the nodal glands under her arm were removed. Following the operation she had radiotherapy treatment and was then prescribed Tamoxifen for 5 years, although she was taken off it after 3 years.
Over the next ten years Jenny had regular checks, every 6 months at first and then once a year, and was clear each time.
Jenny had her last check up in August 2006 which should have been to discharge her. Nothing was found but her hospital consultant advised her to have a final mammogram, just to make sure. She had the mammogram and then got a letter asking her to go straight back. They had found a lump in her other breast. Again, it had been caught early. She had a lumpectomy at Wythenshawe hospital. This time she just had to stay in one night, no pain, no discomfort, and was then prescribed another hormonal drug to take for 5 years.
Between 2011 and December 2016 she went for regular checks.
Now aged 74, she has had mammograms on a regular basis, and plans to ask for more, as women over 70 are not automatically invited for breast screening.
“I feel quite well now, but it’s at the back of your mind, every time you get a twinge”, said Jenny.
With regard to her diagnoses and treatment, she said: “The first time, back in 1996, it was scary. I was in hospital for 10 days with a drainage bag attached, but the second time was a much better experience. Things have advanced so much. I had an injection in my breast then had the operation and just stayed one night in hospital, no pain afterwards. The treatment made me feel quite tired but I didn’t have any other discomfort.”
“I would say to all women my age - make sure you keep checking your breasts, even when you’re in your 70s. Don’t be complacent. It’s so important to catch it early, as it could mean the difference between peace of mind when all is well, or a simple, quick operation with little discomfort, or a much more serious situation, where the breast cancer has spread and treatment is more complex and prolonged, or - worst case scenario - it’s too late for treatment.
“If you are not sure how to check your breasts, or what to look out for, you can ask for advice at your GP surgery, they will show you how to do it.
“If you’re no longer called for breast screening, you can self-refer. You can ask your GP for a breast screening or mammogram.
“I know several people my age who have had breast cancer, some have not been as lucky as me. So ‘keep checking’ and ‘catch it early’ is my advice to all older women in Salford. It could save your life.”