As you may know, October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. What you may not have heard is that the risk of developing breast cancer increases greatly with age, making seniors the most likely age group to develop the disease.
What are the risk factors, and how does cancer treatment in seniors differ from that of younger people? Having an immediate relative with breast cancer is one sign that you may have an increased risk of developing breast cancer. When closely related women (mother, sister, grandmother) are diagnosed with breast cancer it indicates that they may be more genetically predisposed to developing the disease.
Caucasian women are statistically more likely to develop breast cancer than those of other races.
Another factor to consider is a woman’s exposure to reproductive hormones, simply put, how much of her life she’s spent menstruating. A woman’s exposure to endogenous estrogen and progesterone, naturally occurring female hormones that stimulate cell growth, can increase her likelihood of developing breast cancer. This is why women who began menstruating early, experienced late-onset menopause, and who have never given birth may be more susceptible to breast cancer than others. Since pregnancy and menopause cause a disruption of the menstrual cycle, women who’ve given birth or have experienced fewer overall menstrual periods haven’t been exposed to these hormones for the amount of time as other women.
It is recommended that women between the ages of fifty and seventy-five receive annual mammograms. Depending on an individual’s risk factors, a breast MRI may also be recommended. Women of all ages should tell their doctors if they notice any lumps or changes in their breasts. If test results show an area of concern, a biopsy will often be done to confirm whether or not the worrisome tissue is cancerous.
What if the results do come back as positive for breast cancer? Similar treatments options are available to seniors as are to younger people with cancer, such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy. However, a careful assessment of the woman’s overall health and well-being must be done to determine which treatment options are realistic. A doctor will look at all other existing conditions, such as hypertension, dementia, COPD, diabetes, and other significant illnesses when recommending a course of cancer treatment. If the breast cancer is the patient’s only major illness, a more aggressive treatment option may be available, versus someone with several other competing conditions. The doctor will also look at the list of medications that are being prescribed and how they may or may not clash with cancer treatments.
Don’t forget, men can also develop breast cancer. Men have a small amount of breast tissue that can also be susceptible to cancerous cells. Though less than one-percent of breast cancer patients are male, the average age of a man diagnosed with breast cancer is sixty-eight, making it a higher concern for senior citizens. Risk factors for men include age, high levels of estrogen as the result of medications, weight, or an exposure to estrogen in the environment, having Klinefelter syndrome, as well as having liver disease, and being a heavy consumer of alcohol. A family history of breast cancer is also a risk factor for men.
Though getting a mammogram is not the most pleasant way to spend an afternoon, don’t be tempted to skip your regular screening. Early detection is the most proactive way to safeguard your health against breast cancer.
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