In Older Women, Risk of Breast Cancer increases with Age

Based on American statistics, the risk of breast cancer in one’s lifetime is 1-in-8, making cancer the #2 leading cause of cancer death in women after lung cancer. If you are a women at 40, the risk is 1-in-68, but as women grows older, the risk increases to 1-in-28 at 60 and 1-in-26 at 70. According to Harvard Medical School, “Half of newly diagnosed women are over 60, and more than a fifth are over 70”.  The good news is that death rates from female breast cancer has declined by about 40% from 1989 to 2007 due to better screening and medical advancement. Here is what older women should know about breast cancer.

Women who do not have any elevated risk of developing breast cancer should receive mammogram annually or every two years – after reaching 50. But it is best that you discuss a screening plan with your doctor after assessing your health condition and family history. When should older women stop mammogram is less clear — only your doctor can help you weigh the risk and benefit of this decision. For women over 75, “there isn’t enough evidence to indicate whether the benefits outweigh the risks for women in that age group”.

According to Dr. Hal Burstein, a specialist that works at the Harvard affiliated Dana Farber Cancer Institute, while the risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer increases with age, “women who have lived to an advanced age do very well when treated for breast cancer.” Also interesting to note is that while there are more deaths from breast cancer in older women because of the higher rate of diagnosis, “most of these women will die from a cause other than their breast cancer”. Of course there are many individual factors that will affect cancer survival rates such as the cancer’s stage at diagnosis and sub type.

When it comes to radiotherapy or chemotherapy treatment of breast cancer, few research exists as most cancer research have not included patients over 65. Since radiotherapy and chemotherapy generally cause more harm in older patients, there is a need to carefully weigh the benefits and risks of these treatment options for older women diagnosed with breast cancer.

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