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. Let’s review some of the risk factors, as well as screening and treatment options, for senior women.
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 .
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.
When it comes to your breast health, information is power. Breast cancer awareness and early detection are the key to breast cancer prevention. An Aging Life Care Professional can ensure the correct information is provided and recommendations applied.
You owe it to yourself—and to your children and grandchildren.