TUCKED away at the back of the Royal Bolton Hospital, most people would miss the Churchill Unit.
Yet inside this unassuming building, a tight-knit team of nurses and consultants are treating breast cancer patients from across Bolton and Bury.
While the Churchill Unit is only small, its location in the Royal Bolton site is ideal for local patients who do not want to commute to the Christie in south Manchester for every chemotherapy cycle.
Staff at the unit say the calm and friendly atmosphere can be a vital boost to women in the midst of trying to beat cancer.
Cheryl Downes is the Macmillan chemotherapy co-ordinator at the unit.
She said: “I think one of the strengths of this unit is that it’s local and that people from Bolton don’t have to travel that far.
“The Christie is a fantastic unit but its size means it has hundreds more patients receiving treatment every week.
“We are only a small team here, which means you really get to know the patients as they go through their chemotherapy cycles.
“That continuity is great for the patients and for the nursing staff because then we can tell if they’re not quite right or pick up on any changes.”
The unit can see up to 150 patients a week, who have often had surgery in the breast unit in the Royal Bolton.
This week staff are backing the national Be Clear on Cancer campaign to raise awareness of breast cancer among older women in Bolton.
New figures show one in three breast cancer patients is aged 70 or over — yet women in that age group are not routinely screened for the disease.
Cancer experts say older women may be less aware of the risks and more likely to leave it longer before seeing a doctor. Embarrassment and “not wanting to cause a fuss” are also cited as obstacles for older women.
Kathy Sandler, lead nurse for cancer at the Bolton NHS Foundation Trust, explained: “We’re backing this national campaign to ensure women over 70 are aware of the risk of breast cancer.
“There is no difference in the risk or treatment for older women. If any women have any concerns we would always advise them to go straight to their GP.”
Susan Dodd, specialist breast cancer nurse, added: “I think a lot of ladies think that because they are no longer called forward for screening, they don’t need to check their breasts.
“But as figures show, they are one of the highest risk groups.”
Anne Fox, from Bury, had just turned 70 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in August.
She has already had a lumpectomy — a surgical procedure to remove the tumour — is about to start her final cycle of chemotherapy at the unit.
The mother-of-two says she was shocked by her diagnosis.
She said: “I had stopped checking my breasts as I got older if I’m honest. I first noticed something was wrong when I had a pain under my arm and I did feel a lump.
“But I didn’t think pain was a sign of cancer and when the results of the biopsy came back, I couldn’t believe it.
“I’ve found the best way to get through it is to stay positive — it’s the only way really. The staff at the unit have been fantastic and I couldn’t have asked for better care.
“It’s not the nicest reason for a visit but you still manage to have a laugh with everyone there. They just make you feel more confident about the treatment and how you’re going to get through it.”
The unit is supported by a team of volunteers and also receives charitable donations.
BREAST CANCER IN THE OVER-70S
- Breast cancer is the most common cancer in England with around 41,500 women diagnosed each year.
- The older people are, the more likely you are to get it — one in three women who gets breast cancer is 70 and over.
- Women between the ages of 50 and 70 are currently invited for screening, which can detect the condition at an early stage. The screening programme is gradually extending to include everyone aged 47 to 73, but this has not happened everywhere yet.
- Anyone over 70 can ask for a free screening every three years by getting in touch with their local breast-screening unit to make an appointment.