Bridging the age gap in breast cancer

October 2012

Glyn Elwyn and colleagues are collaborating with researchers in Sheffield on the NIHR funded Age Gap study.

Researchers based at the Institute of Primary Care and Public Health, together with collaborators at the University of Sheffield, are set to investigate ways to improve the treatment and survival rate of elderly patients diagnosed with breast cancer.

The new research has been awarded almost £2M by the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) to ensure older women are treated as effectively as younger women.

Every year, more than 13,000 women in the United Kingdom aged 70 years and over are diagnosed with breast cancer, resulting in almost 7,000 deaths per year.

Whilst intensive research has resulted in significant improvements in the treatment and survival for younger women with breast cancer, this has not been the case for older women.

There is evidence that older women are not always treated as effectively as younger women with the omission of treatments such as surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy in many cases.

This is based on misunderstandings of the impact of breast cancer on survival rates in older women, the complications and side-effects of treatment and the preferences and perceptions these patients have of the disease and its treatment.

Professor Glyn Elwyn, School of Medicine, said: "The program will help us establish the most effective treatment for breast cancer in older patients tailored to their individual tumour characteristics and overall health.

"This will enable patients and their doctors to select the best treatment avoiding the common problem of under treatment but also that of overtreatment with the associated risk of side effects and loss of independence."

The research programme will collect detailed information on the treatment and outcomes of a large national cohort of women with the aim of designing simple-to-use decision aids to help clinicians and patients decide on the most appropriate treatment.

Professor Glyn Elwyn, who is based in the School of Medicine’s Institute of Primary Care & Public Health, will join forces with Professor Malcolm Reed and Lynda Wyld from the Department of Oncology at the University of Sheffield and Dr Karen Collins from the Centre for Health and Social Care Research at Sheffield Hallam University to undertake the research.

Professor Malcolm Reed, Head of Surgical Oncology at the University of Sheffield said: "The award of a major programme grant funding from NIHR provides us with a superb opportunity to continue our work to improve the care in this previously under resourced area.

"The research programme will receive funding for five years with the aim of producing benefits for patients in the NHS."