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2013 National Retired Members Conference
12 June 2013

Conference is very concerned that women aged 70 and over are being denied adjuvant (ie, additional treatment) chemotherapy in the treatment of breast cancer – the standard of care in younger patients according to a new study.

Researchers from Brighton & Sussex Medical School, University of Sussex, found that only 14% of patients over 70 with early breast cancer are offered standard chemotherapy after surgery. Professor Lesley Fallowfield states that elderly breast cancer patients should be assessed in the same way that younger patients are, without prejudice or unreasonably ageist perceptions. Unfortunately, routine testing for HER2, recommended for women diagnosed with invasive breast cancer because results may affect treatment, recommendations and decisions, is not being received by elderly women. This is essential information and, without it, it is a guess as to the most appropriate treatment.

It should be noted that about 13,000 women in the UK are diagnosed as having breast cancer each year, and that figure is expected to increase as the population ages.

A further statistic from the Office for National Statistics states that women aged 70 have a life expectancy of a further 17 years. National guidelines should be developed to support recommendations if elderly patients are to receive fair and equal assessment of their treatment requirements for breast cancer in the future.

Conference therefore requests that the National Retired Members’ Committee work with UNISON’s National Executive Council and Healthcare Service Group Executive to:

1)urge the Government’s National Cancer Initiative, Department of Health, to produce the appropriate National Guidelines to ensure elderly patients receive comprehensive assessment and treatment when diagnosed with cancer in order to avoid unnecessary suffering and death;

2)publicise information to UNISON retired members to help elderly patients with breast cancer to understand the assessment and treatment process and therefore improve their survival likelihood.