What senior women should know about breast cancer

Sunrise Senior Living  |  October 2, 2017

Breast cancer is a disease for which risk increases with age. The numbers are quite startling: 82.2 new cases (per 100,000 women) are diagnosed in women younger than 65 years compared with 403.8 for those aged 65 and older. In honor of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we are taking time to share what senior women need to know about the disease.

Breast Cancer Awareness among Older Women

Let’s first break down what we know about breast cancer and older women a little further:

  • Age Increases Risk: According to Harvard-affiliated researchers, half of all newly diagnosed cases of breast cancer are in women over the age of 60. Nearly 20 percent of them are women aged 70 and older.
  • By the Numbers: One in eight women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime. But it’s not just women who develop breast cancer. While the odds are significantly lower, one in 1,000 men will develop it too.
  • Family Ties: If a first-degree relative (mother, sister, daughter) has a history of breast cancer, your risk for developing it nearly doubles. But don’t let a lack of breast cancer in your family lull you into delaying preventative screenings. While family history plays a role, less than 15 percent of women diagnosed with breast cancer have a family member who has or has had the disease.

Breast Cancer Prevention

What actions can women take to help prevent breast cancer?

  • 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.
  • 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.

Preventative Screenings for Breast Cancer

While the statistics on breast cancer are fairly solid, the recommendations on preventative screenings aren’t. You may have heard conflicting reports on the news yourself. It can be a little unsettling for women of all ages.

Here is what two important advocacy groups have to say on the matter of mammograms and breast cancer:

  • American Cancer Society: The organization’s experts recommend yearly screening mammograms starting at age 45 and continuing for as long as you are in good health. These are guidelines many physicians in the U.S. adhere to.
  • U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF): The USPSTF takes a more conservative and somewhat controversial approach. They recommend mammograms for women beginning at age 50 and continuing every two years through age 74.

This is obviously a conversation every woman will need to have with her own physician.

Live a Healthy Lifestyle at Sunrise Senior Living

At Sunrise, we make it easier for older adults to live their best life. One way we do that is through the Sunrise Dining Program. Healthy, delicious meals are a part of everyday life.

We invite you to download a complimentary copy of one of our Recipes from the Heart cookbooks. For seven years, our staff and residents have been sharing their favorite recipes for friends and visitors to enjoy!