Breast Cancer Statistics
Did you know that breast cancer is one of the most common cancers in women? Here’s a troubling statistic about breast cancer in older women – half of all women recently diagnosed with breast cancer are over 60, and a fifth are older than 70, according to Harvard Health.
While research continues to make remarkable advances in breast cancer awareness, detection, diagnosis, and treatment, it’s important to know your risk and identify common signs and symptoms. To recognize Breast Cancer Awareness Month this October, GreatCall is helping to increase breast cancer awareness in senior women. Let’s review some of the risk factors, as well as screening and treatment options, for senior women.
What is Breast Cancer?
Breast cancer is a disease in which abnormal cells grow in the breast tissues. These abnormal cells can invade surrounding tissue or spread (metastasize) to other areas of your body. Since aging can increase your risk of these abnormal cell changes, senior women are more prone to develop breast cancer.
Risk Factors of Breast Cancer in Older Women
The risk factors vary for breast cancer in seniors. However, regardless of your age, you should be aware of the risk factors and warning signs.
Age is a significant risk factor. While breast cancer often affects younger women, breast cancer risk factors increase after age 50. In fact, the risk of developing breast cancer after age 70 is greater than at the age of 30, says the National Cancer Institute.
Additional risk factors for breast cancer in older women include post-breast tissue density, no or late pregnancy, long-term use of oral contraception, exposure to radiation, lack of physical activity, post-menopausal weight gain, life-long obesity, a diet high in saturated fat, high alcohol consumption (more than two drinks per day), late menopause, and a family or personal history of breast cancer, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Breast Cancer Prevention
Breast cancer prevention starts with healthy habits — such as limiting alcohol and staying active. Understand how to reduce your breast cancer risk.
Maintain a Healthy Diet. We hear this one often when it comes to cancer prevention, and breast cancer is no different. Harvard researchers found that women who ate foods with high carotenoid levels had a 19 percent lower risk of breast cancer than those who didn’t. Carotenoids are found in fruits and vegetables.
Keep Moving. Staying physically active is one of the best ways to manage your weight. As you grow older and your metabolism slows, it’s easy for the number on the scale to creep up. A study by the American Cancer Society found that women who gained 21 to 30 pounds after age 18 were 40 percent more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer than women who maintained their weight! Experts think fat-related estrogen found in overweight older women might be the culprit.
Beware of Hormone Therapy (HT). Hormone therapy used to be a widely prescribed method of treating hot flashes in women. But research has uncovered risk factors associated with HT ranging from heart disease to breast cancer. The Women’s Health Initiative found that long-term use of combined estrogen plus progestin therapy increased the chances of developing breast cancer by 24 percent. Physicians weigh the risks for each individual patient and prescribe the smallest dose of HT for the shortest amount of time possible.
BRCA Screening. The actress Angelina Jolie helped raise awareness of this screening test. She underwent a double mastectomy after learning she had the BRCA mutation, a gene mutation which increases the risk of breast and ovarian cancer. It’s worth having a discussion about this testing with your personal physician.
Get screened. Despite some controversy, studies show that breast cancer screening with mammography can help find cancer early—when it’s most treatable. For women who are age 55 and over, mammograms are recommended every other year, although women can choose to have them every year. Clinical breast exams and self-exams are no longer universally recommended as reliable methods for cancer detection, but women should be familiar with their breasts so they can notify a health care provider if they notice changes in how their breasts look or feel.
Smoking. Research shows that pre-menopausal women who smoke raise their risk for breast cancer significantly. What’s interesting is that for post-menopausal women, being exposed to heavy doses of second-hand can be very dangerous. If you smoke, work with your physician to find a smoking cessation program. And if someone you live with smokes, ask them to step outside to light up.
Signs and Symptoms of Breast Cancer in Older Women
Our bodies change as we age. However, certain changes and warning signs should never be ignored. If you experience any of these symptoms, speak with your doctor.
Common signs and symptoms you should watch out for include a lump or thick skin in or near the breast or armpit; tenderness in the nipple; a change in the size, shape, look, or feel of the breast or nipple; and nipple discharge.
Breast Cancer Screening in Older Women
Today, there are many ways to detect and treat breast cancer. Early detection improves the likelihood of effective treatments and prolonged survival. You are your greatest advocate for your health so, take control of your breast health with the following screening methods:
Self-examinations. Women of all ages are encouraged to perform a monthly breast self-examination. To guarantee complete coverage, it is important to examine your breast from various angles and positions. Check both breasts, feeling for lumps and areas of thickening. Look for changes in contour, swelling, skin dimpling, or nipple changes.
Clinical exams. Ask your doctor for a clinical breast examination whenever you have an office visit or annually during your routine physical examination.
Mammogram. A regular mammogram—a special low-energy x-ray that can detect unusual masses or microcalcifications too small for you or a doctor to feel—is the best method to detect breast cancer early, often years before symptoms can be detected. The American Cancer Society recommends an annual mammogram beginning at age 45, and a mammogram every two years after 54 years of age.
Free screenings. For many seniors, getting breast cancer screenings can be cost-prohibitive. Fortunately, many state and local hospitals and health programs provide free or low-cost mammograms.
Breast Cancer Treatment Options
If breast cancer is detected, there are several breast cancer treatment options available. These treatments include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and hormone therapy. Some of these treatments can be used alone or with each other, depending on the type of breast cancer and your health.
When it comes to your breast health, information is power. Breast cancer awareness and early detection are the key to breast cancer prevention. You owe it to yourself—and to your children and grandchildren.