Breast cancer in over 70s

Find out more about the symptoms of breast cancer, and how the NHS can help.

Christian faith leaders lend their support to tackle religious barriers to early diagnosis of breast cancer

Co-Pastor Yvonne Brooks of New Jerusalem Apostolic Church and Pastor Celia Apeagyei-Collins, Founder of Rehoboth Foundation are supporting Public Health England’s ‘Be Clear on Cancer’ breast cancer campaign aimed at women aged 70. 

Despite older women being at an increased risk of breast cancer, they are also more likely to delay going to their GP with breast cancer symptoms and for older Black women there are often cultural and religious issues that can cause delay. The religious issues could include: 

  • A belief that life and death is determined by God therefore it would make little difference whether they sought medical help
  • Preference to pray than to seek medical help
  • Seeking medical help demonstrates a lack of faith in God to heal
  • Sickness is a punishment for bad deeds 

Pastor Yvonne Brooks, co-pastor of New Jerusalem Apostolic Church, Aston, Birmingham says:

“As a church leader I recognise Christian women sometimes put off visiting the doctors when they notice breast cancer symptoms because they believe that the symptoms can be prayed away. In my experience, however, I know that medical treatment, combined with prayer and spiritual support from your particular faith community can play a major role in helping to overcome any disease, including breast cancer. 

Churches can play a major role in reminding people that their bodies are the temple of God, which must be cared for, and tended to if anything goes wrong.  I hope that this campaign encourages women with breast cancer symptoms to visit their doctor, and undergo the recommended treatment and in so doing prolong their lives.

The Be Clear on Cancer campaign is a great health initiative to which I am glad to give my support. One in three women over 70 are diagnosed with cancer –  this includes women in the Christian community - so I encourage women who notice any changes to their breasts  to visit their doctor straight away as this cancer can be effectively treated if caught early.” 

Pastor Celia Apeagyei-Collins, Founder of Rehoboth Foundation says:

“It’s important that the African and African Caribbean Christian community dispel the belief amongst some that they should be ashamed that they are sick and the belief that they can pray away symptoms.  Doctors are professionally trained to treat disease, and their medical treatment, coupled with prayers, can work together in helping restore a person to full health.

A woman’s Christian beliefs should not be a barrier for her to seek treatment, if she has symptoms. 

It’s encouraging to know that if breast cancer is caught early, it can be successfully treated, that’s why I encourage women aged over 70 to go to their doctor if they experience any of the symptoms highlighted in this campaign.  Too many women are dying from this disease.

It is an initiative which I hope our churches will give their support so more lives can be saved”. 

The campaign aims to drive awareness of the risk of breast cancer amongst women aged 70 and over to increase their knowledge of lesser-known breast cancer symptoms which could include:

  • Changes to the skin of your breast
  • Changes in the shape or size of your breast
  • Nipple changes
  • Nipple discharge
  • Pain in your breast
  • Any other unusual or persistent changes to your breast 

Around 13,400 women aged 70 and over are diagnosed with breast cancer each year, accounting for a third of all breast cancer cases. Approximately 30% of all women diagnosed with breast cancer report a symptom other than a lump. However, research shows that when asked to name symptoms of breast cancer, only half of women over 70 (48%) could name a symptom aside from a lump. 

Dr Ann Hoskins, Public Health England Deputy Director, Health and Wellbeing says:

"We’re delighted to have the support of faith leaders to help the campaign reach communities where religious beliefs can prevent women presenting early to their GP when they notice possible signs of breast cancer. 

This campaign emphasises that a lump is not the only sign of breast cancer and women should tell their GP if they notice any changes to their breasts. Other possible signs of breast cancer include nipple changes and changes to the skin of the breast." 

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women in England, with around 41,200 women diagnosed every year. National figures show that around 9,500 women die from breast cancer each year and over half of these are women aged 70 and over (5,400). This equates to around 15 women aged 70 and over dying from breast cancer in England every day. 

As part of this campaign health professionals are delivering breast cancer awareness talks in churches. For more information on the signs and symptoms of breast cancer please visit the NHS website

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