Nicholas Jones is a New Zealand Herald political reporter.

NZ Breast Cancer Foundation petitions Parliament to extend breast screening age

NZ Breast Cancer Foundation ambassador Lorraine Downes. Photo / File
NZ Breast Cancer Foundation ambassador Lorraine Downes. Photo / File

When Glad Downes turned 70 she stopped having mammograms, assuming her age meant she was no longer at risk.

Six years later she read an article about television personality Helena McAlpine's breast cancer battle, which ended in her death last year.

That prompted the 76-year-old to do a self-examination, her daughter and former Miss Universe, Lorraine Downes, told a Pink Ribbon event at Parliament this morning.

"She discovered a lump the size of a golf ball. This led to a double mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation treatment. If it had been found earlier, she would have needed less toxic treatment. And if it had been found later, it might have been too late.

"My family was shocked ... as, like mum, we did not know that the breast cancer risk was as high in the 70s as it was at 50."

Because of her mother's experience, Lorraine Downes became a NZ Breast Cancer Foundation ambassador.

At this morning's Pink Ribbon breakfast, a 10,000-signature petition from Evangelia Henderson, chief executive of the foundation, was presented to Labour MP Jacinda Ardern.

The petition calls on the Government to extend the free national breast screening programme for women, to women aged 70 to 74.

Free screening is offered to women aged between 45 and 69 at present.

Ms Ardern will table the petition in Parliament this afternoon.

She told the breakfast meeting that her own mother had been diagnosed with breast cancer.

"I knew something was wrong on March 4, 2014, when I got a text message from my father, who doesn't text often."

Ms Ardern said her mother "considers herself one of the lucky ones".

"Yesterday I called her and said, 'Mum, there's a breakfast this morning, what's one message you'd like me to share'. She said, 'Even if you have a mild suspicion, do something straight away, no matter what'. She then paused for a second and went on to add, 'even if you are the kind of person who puts everybody else first'. Now, that's my mother to a T."

Ms Ardern said her mother also told her about her great aunty, who ahead of her 70th birthday realised she was about to lose her right to free screenings, and got her last - which revealed breast cancer.

According to the Breast Cancer Foundation, a women's risk for breast cancer is higher in her 70s than at 50. The cost of a mammogram by a private provider is about $150 to $200.

- NZ Herald

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