Breast cancer awareness: Senior breast cancer risks and care

BHC breast cancer main.jpgOctober is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a time to learn about the symptoms, risks and treatment of this all-too-common disease.

Breast cancer is the second most common cancer among American women. Most breast cancers are found in women 50 years old or older.

Men make up less than one percent of breast cancer diagnosis, but often are diagnosed later and therefore have a relatively higher mortality rate.

Breast cancer and senior women

Breast cancer occurs when cancer cells form in the tissues of the breast. Doctors diagnose nearly 275,000 new cases of breast cancer every year. That means about one in eight women in the United States will develop breast cancer in her lifetime. Half of the newly diagnosed breast cancer occurs in women over age 60. About 20 percent come from women over 70. After age 80, the chances of developing breast cancer begin to decrease.

Other breast cancer risk factors

While there are factors that can increase a woman’s chance of having breast cancer, it is important to know that most women who are diagnosed have no family history of the disease and no known risk factors.
There are many genetic, environmental and demographic risk factors that can contribute to the likelihood of a woman developing breast cancer.

Some of these include:

  • Being over age 60.
  • White women are a little more likely than African-American women to develop breast cancer, although that gap has been closing in recent years.
  • Women who go through menopause after age 55 have a slightly higher risk of breast cancer.
  • Having a first-degree relative (mother, sister, or daughter) with breast cancer almost doubles a woman’s risk. Two first-degree relatives increase her risk by about three-fold.

Screening for breast cancer

According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, Inc., about 62 percent of breast cancer cases are diagnosed at a localized stage, which has a 99 percent five-year survival rate.

Although screenings do not prevent breast cancer, early detection is critical to successful treatment.
Mammograms are the best way to find breast cancer early – often before a woman notices any changes or symptoms. Annual mammograms help track changes in breast tissue.

A physical examination, by a healthcare professional or self-exam by the woman, is another way to find changes in the breasts that can indicate cancer.

Ultrasounds and MRIs are used to get deeper and more detailed images of the breast and areas of concern.
If suspicious tissues are found, a biopsy examines a sample of the tissues in a laboratory. A biopsy is typically the last step in confirming a breast cancer diagnosis. It can determine the type of cancer found and guides the health care team in charting a course of treatment.

Breast cancer treatment for seniors

Treating older patients with breast cancer can be challenging.

Treatment plans depend on the type of cancer, the size of the tumor, if it has spread and many other factors.

Seniors need extra attention because they are more likely to have chronic conditions that can be triggered or exacerbated by certain drugs or treatments. As the population ages, there is more research being conducted to offer seniors more successful breast cancer outcomes.

Mastectomy: This is a surgery that removes the whole breast and, in some cases, surrounding tissues that are affected by cancer.

Lumpectomy: Lumpectomy is the surgical removal of some breast tissue when issues are caught early or when a patient is diagnosed with a less-invasive form of breast cancer. The goal is to remove all cancerous tissue while leaving the breast intact.

Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy drugs and treatments are administered intravenously, with a pill, through an injection, with a cream and other methods. Side effects can include nausea, fatigue, vomiting and hair loss.
Radiation: Radiation uses high-energy to attack areas where the cancer cells are present. Side effects include coughing and shortness of breath.

Hormone therapy: In some breast cancer cases, high levels of hormones help cancer spread. Hormone therapy blocks the hormone receptors on cancer cells to help stop them from growing.

If a senior loved one notices symptoms of breast cancer, have them visit the doctor as soon as possible. When making the appointment, note the symptoms they have experienced.

Belvedere Home Care offers customized home health care plans for seniors who are recovering from surgery or going through cancer treatment. We work with a senior’s health care team to provide the information and support they need for optimal outcomes.

For more information, call (518) 694-9400, Option 4, or email