WORKSHOP: CASE STUDY - Breast Cancer Care targets over-50s

Francois Le Goff

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Background: Breast Cancer Care offers a range of free services including emotional support from volunteers, a helpline, prosthesis fitting services and one-day therapy education events.

In July 2003, the charity published a report claiming that three-quarters of women aged 50-plus are not aware that breast cancer is more common in older age groups and that two-thirds do not realise that the risk of developing the disease increases with age.

Feedback from its service users and volunteers also indicated that much of the media coverage of Breast Cancer Care's campaign focuses on young women. On 18 September 2003, the charity launched its '80 over fifty' campaign as part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Its message relied on the July report's core finding that 80 per cent of breast cancer diagnoses occur in women over the age of 50.

Aims: Although Breast Cancer Care worked with the Estee Lauder Foundation to kick off the UK's first Breast Cancer Awareness Month in 1993, the event is not owned by Breast Cancer Care alone, but by several charities.

This year, Breast Cancer Care tried to distance itself from the youthful image that Breast Cancer Awareness Month has cultivated through the involvement of young celebrities and fashion models in previous campaigns.

The charity's main objectives were to generate media coverage that focused on breast cancer risks among older women and to promote the five-point code, developed by the Department of Health to increase early detection of the disease.

How it worked: The results of a survey undertaken in collaboration with Boots were revealed in a policy brief produced ahead of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The data, which illustrates the level of understanding of issues relating to breast awareness and breast cancer among older women, was collected in a series of interviews with the public, Boots customers and health professionals. One of the most surprising findings was that one in five women never examine their breasts.

Breast Cancer Care sent its briefing paper to MPs and health decision makers in a move to place older women's breast awareness on the health policy agenda. This was motivated by the fact that, eight years after the Government produced its five-point code, most women over 50 are still not aware of how to detect breast cancer. The document called on the Department of Health to review its breast cancer health education programme to ensure that the right messages are getting to the right people. An early day motion was also tabled in the House of Commons, asking MPs to support the campaign, and, on the day of the launch, Cherie Blair wore a T-shirt sporting the '80 over fifty' slogan.

The charity also produced 15,000 posters featuring actress Honor Blackman wearing the T-shirt.

Results: Breast Cancer Care estimated that the media generated £28m-worth of editorial coverage. Stories about the campaign were featured in The Daily Telegraph, The Sun and The Mirror, as well as magazines such as PR Week.

The campaign was backed by 100 MPs and welcomed by Mike Richards, national cancer director at the Department of Health.

Breast Cancer Care now plans to place 3,000 '80 over 50' poster adverts throughout the UK during the first half of this year.

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