October is breast cancer awareness month. As breast cancer is one of the most common types of cancer that women face, it is important to learn about the disease and what you can do to detect, prevent, and treat breast cancer. (Currents by Great Call). Women over 65 make up 40% of patients newly diagnosed with breast cancer. More than 1/2 of women with breast cancer are over 60. Around 1/5 of women with breast cancer are over 70. There are more than 30 million women who have or have had breast cancer in the US. (Breastcancer.org)
What is Breast Cancer?
Cancer is a term classifying diseases in which abnormal cells form and cause a negative impact on healthy cells. Groups of abnormal cells are called tumors. Breast cancer affects the tissues within the breasts, but can spread to other parts of the body. There are three main types: metastatic, inflammatory, or ductal carcinoma in breast tissues.
What are the Risk Factors?
The two most common risk factors are being female and getting older. Others include:
- Never having children or having a first child at an older age (35+)
- Having dense breast tissue
- A family history of breast or ovarian cancer
- Previous cancer in one breast or breast tissue abnormalities like hyperplasia
How can I prevent it?
If you are 55 and older, prevention and early detection are great ways to reduce the risk of breast cancer and increase positive outcomes.
- Have a mammogram every other year or as recommended by provider
- Pay attention to breast changes and report them right away to a doctor
- Talk to your doctor is you are at a higher risk for developing breast cancer
- Ask your doctor about medications such as tamoxifen and raloxifene if at higher risk.
- Maintain a healthy weight and nutritious diet.
- Stay physically active
- Avoid post–menopausal hormones
- Don’t smoke (Siteman Cancer Center)
How is it diagnosed?
If a symptom appears, there are several methods used to diagnose the presence of breast cancer. Doctors may employ one or more of the following:
- A mammogram
- An MRI
- An ultrasound
- A biopsy
- Lab tests (National Breast Cancer Foundation)
How is it treated?
Treating breast cancer in seniors requires a different approach than in younger adults. Treatment depends largely on the type of cancer. Treatments, while killing the unhealthy cells, all come with risks, some of which make them inadvisable to be used on seniors who have other physical ailments and medical conditions. Seniors should make sure to ask their physicians about which treatments are prescribed, the risks, and the benefits and prognosis prior to beginning any treatment regimen. Common treatments can include:
- Hormone therapy
- Targeted medicinal therapy (NCBI)
Home Care Tip
The National Breast Cancer Foundation offers a free guide to symptoms at nationalbreastcancer.org.