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Bridging the gap in treatment for older women with breast cancer

Sheffield researchers are investigating ways to improve the treatment and survival rate of elderly patients diagnosed with breast cancer.

The pioneering work has been awarded almost £2million by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) in a Programme Grant for Applied Research to ensure older women are treated as effectively as younger women.

Professor Malcolm Reed and Lynda Wyld from the Department of Oncology at the University of Sheffield are leading the ground-breaking programme - working in close collaboration with Dr Karen Collins from the Centre for Health and Social Care Research at Sheffield Hallam University.

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 extensive 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.

Lynda Wyld , Senior Lecturer in Surgical Oncology said: "The program will allow us to 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, which also involves colleagues from the University of Sheffield's School of Health and Related Research (ScHARR) and Cardiff University, 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 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.

"We are pleased that NIHR have recognised the strength of the proposal and the partners at both Universities in Sheffield and other universities and hospitals in the UK.

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

Notes for Editors: With nearly 25,000 students from 125 countries, the University of Sheffield is one of the UK's leading and largest universities. A member of the Russell Group, it has a reputation for world-class teaching and research excellence across a wide range of disciplines.

The University of Sheffield has been named University of the Year in the Times Higher Education Awards for its exceptional performance in research, teaching, access and business performance. In addition, the University has won four Queen's Anniversary Prizes (1998, 2000, 2002, 2007). These prestigious awards recognise outstanding contributions by universities and colleges to the United Kingdom's intellectual, economic, cultural and social life. Sheffield also boasts five Nobel Prize winners among former staff and students and many of its alumni have gone on to hold positions of great responsibility and influence around the world.

The University's research partners and clients include Boeing, Rolls Royce, Unilever, Boots, AstraZeneca, GSK, ICI, Slazenger, and many more household names, as well as UK and overseas government agencies and charitable foundations.

The University has well-established partnerships with a number of universities and major corporations, both in the UK and abroad. Its partnership with Leeds and York Universities in the White Rose Consortium has a combined research power greater than that of either Oxford or Cambridge.

For further information please contact: Amy Pullan, Media Relations Officer, on 0114 2229859 or email a.l.pullan@sheffield.ac.uk