Breast Cancer in the Elderly

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month

This October marks the 25th anniversary for National Breast Cancer Awareness, Education and Empowerment

Almost everyone knows someone who is or has been affected by breast cancer.  According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), breast cancer is the 2nd leading cause of cancer in women in the United States and an estimated 192,370 new cases of invasive breast cancer are expected to be diagnosed among women in the United States this year.  Also according to ACS, breast cancer incidence in women in the United States is 1 in 8 (about 12%). This means that women born today have a 1 in 8 chance of developing Breast Cancer at some point in their lives.  Breast cancer risk increases with: aging, certain family histories, particular reproductive histories, some race/ethnic backgrounds and other factors.

According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI) Breast Cancer is defined as ‘Cancer that forms in tissues of the breast, usually the ducts (tubes that carry milk to the nipple) and lobules (glands that make milk). It occurs in both men and women, although male breast cancer is rare.’

Breast Cancer in the Elderly
As the population of the United States ages, the prevalence of breast cancer in women over the age of 65 has increased as well, accounting for approximately 50% of all new breast cancers. According to Jeanne Mandelblatt, M.D., of Georgetown University’s Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, the number of older women with breast cancer is forecast to double by 2030 as the baby boomers age. Yet despite their increasingly large numbers, older women who develop breast cancer often fail to receive the same care as offered to younger women.1

It is not uncommon for doctors or the patients themselves to be reluctant to consider appropriate cancer treatment for women age 65 and older, which includes surgery, radiation and/or chemotherapy.  The reasons could be due to the higher incidence of other illnesses such as high blood pressure, diabetes, or arthritis that may or may not be life-threatening.  Another reason may be due to earlier studies in breast cancer among older adults which lead to some doctors and patients thinking that breast cancer in the elderly is somehow less dangerous than it is in younger women, though that is not necessarily true.  Also, the elderly patient is considered by some to be in the group characterized by limited life expectancy, decreasing quality of life, cognitive impairment, functional problems and diminished social value.  However, the average life expectancy of a 70-year-old woman is 15 years.

We know that mammograms are recommended yearly for all women beginning at age 40, but at what age are they no longer needed or recommended? The guidelines for this keep changing and differ among organizations.  A recent study that tried to assess the usefulness of mammography among 80 and 90 year-olds found that very few women in this age group, 22 percent, underwent regular screenings for breast cancer, but that those who did were more likely to find the cancer early enough to avoid a mastectomy and survive at least five years. 2

Ultimately, it is important to determine the best treatment options individually for each patient considering one’s own health, illnesses, beliefs and desires and allowing that person to make the decision about what type of treatment to seek.  The key to determining the best treatment approach is communication and collaboration between patients, health advocates/care managers, geriatricians/primary care providers and oncologists.

Matrix AdvoCare Network RN Care Managers work with elderly and disabled individuals and design care programs to maximize each client’s well-being, independence and dignity. We strive to provide holistic, patient-centered services to ensure that all issues regarding healthy aging are addressed. Call Matrix if you or someone you know needs help navigating the health care system at 952-525-0505 or visit our website at http://www.matrixadvocare.com/ to learn more.

1. 9 October 2006. 2 October 2009 <http://www.sciencedaily.com­
2. Journal of Clinical Oncology, Vol 26, No 15 (May 20), 2008: pp. 2482-2488© 2008 American Society of Clinical Oncology.

Posted in Caregiver Support, Diseases and Conditions, Health Care Advocate, Home Health Care, Nursing Care Management

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