Breast cancer: What elderly women need to know.

The month of October is breast cancer awareness month and now even more than ever, there’s that need to talk about the scary “C” word that everyone, both the young and the old dreads hearing at any medical exam: Cancer.

Breast cancer, like most cancer, is a disease of ageing. It is the most common form of cancer found in elderly women. About 275,000 new cases of breast cancer are diagnosed every year, with more than three million survivors of the disease living at any given time, according to the American Cancer Society. The average age of a breast cancer diagnosis is 62 and about 20 percent of women diagnosed are over the age of 75, according to the Surveillance Epidemiology and End Results registry. More than 40,000 women die from breast cancer every year.

Hence, it’s vital that women and their loved ones know the warning signs, causes, different types and available treatment options at each stage of cancer as well as how and when to get tested. Ignorance for the ageing and elderly become even more costly and life-threatening.

How breast cancer affects the elderly.

Realizing that there is that possibility that she may develop breast cancer is a woman’s first step toward taking control of her health. The facts are:

  • All women are at risk of breast cancer, regardless of age, race, ethnicity or sexual orientation.
  • There is no way to prevent breast cancer.
  • Breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in Illinois women.

Based on this current knowledge and facts, the biology of breast cancer in the elderly is not much different from breast cancer at younger ages. While more favorable breast cancer subtypes are prevalent in older women, more aggressive breast cancers are not uncommon. In the case of treatment, older patients tend to respond to treatment differently. For example, chemotherapy requires a balance of providing the standard of care at recommended doses while monitoring potential toxicities and impact on quality of life. But elderly people with breast cancer are at a greater risk of side effects and treatment-related mortality. Even much worse, undertreatment at any age and stage is linked to poor outcomes.

Regardless of breast cancer subtype and prognosis, older adults are often excluded from clinical trials, which form the basis of standards of care and research shows that patients over 75 years do not always receive appropriate treatment. This is partly due to the improper assessment of functional age as well as a lack of available data in older adults with cancer. All these and many more reasons foster the need for more research into breast cancer especially for the elderly.

Risk Factors for Senior Breast Cancer

There are risk factors for senior breast cancer and they include:

  1. Gender: More than 99% of breast cancer cases happen in women.
  2. AGE: The older you get, the more likely it is you will develop breast cancer. However, once you reach 75 years old, the chances of getting breast cancer start to decrease.
  3. Genetics: The American Cancer Society says that about 5 to 10 percent of all breast cancer cases are inherited. 
  4. Previously having breast cancer: If you’ve had breast cancer in the past, you’re more likely to get it again.
  5. Family history: If a close family member such as your mom, sister, or grandmother have had breast cancer, your chances of getting the disease are higher.

Finally, patients and their caregivers need to perform periodic checkups, be breast cancer aware and for those that tested positive to clearly define the goals of treatment with their oncologists, along with the potential side effects of treatment.

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