October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month (BCAM), an annual international campaign to increase awareness of the disease, as well as to help raise funds for research into its origin, prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care.
Breast cancer is the second leading cause of death for women in the United States, though a breast cancer diagnosis is not limited to only women. However, it is the most commonly diagnosed cancer for women all over the world. One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer, and one woman will die from breast cancer every 13 minutes.
The facts remain that while women and men of any age will be diagnosed with breast cancer, breast cancer does affect older women disproportionately more than it does the young and middle-aged. The risk of developing breast cancer increases dramatically with age, making seniors the most likely age group to develop it. In fact, approximately 24 percent of breast cancer cases in the United States are diagnosed in women aged seventy to eighty-four years old. And as America’s population continues to grow older, it follows that the annual number of breast cancer diagnoses is expected to rise.
Researchers believe that developing breast cancer can be environmental or genetic, or perhaps a combination of both; and they also agree that there are some risk factors that cannot be changed, and preventing cancer entirely is impossible. However, there are ways to be proactive by living a healthy lifestyle, which we will discuss below.
In honor of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we are taking time to share what senior women need to know about the disease. We here at Unicity Eldercare want to discuss the importance of early detection, and educating the public about the disease that affects so many — in particular our senior community.
Breast Cancer: The Importance Of Raising Awareness Among Seniors
Breast cancer is a disease where malignant (cancerous) cells form in the breast. Although these cancerous cells start by growing and invading healthy cells in the breast, they can eventually make their way to other areas of the body by entering blood vessels or lymph vessels. When this happens, and the cancer cells begin damaging other tissues the process is then called metastasis.
One of the biggest reasons raising awareness about breast cancer is important is that breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in women and it is second leading cause of death among women. Further, in the United States, the median age for a diagnosis of breast cancer is about 60 years old — and more than 40 percent of all breast cancers are diagnosed in women aged 65 years or older.
Here are some other facts:
- According to 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.
- One in eight women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime, and while the odds are significantly lower, 1 in 1,000 men will develop it as well.
- If a first-degree relative — meaning a mother, sister, daughter — has a history of breast cancer, your risk for developing it nearly doubles. However, it is important to note that even though breast cancer may not run in your family, you should never 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.
While there is no cure for breast cancer — and age is a major risk factor — seniors should instead focus on early detection, in order to give our loved ones the best chance of living out their golden years. As we get older, a senior’s health may become more complicated and often older adults suffer from multiple chronic conditions. Because this is the case, early breast cancer detection is paramount for senior women.
Preventative Screenings: Early Detection and Symptoms
The most common way to detect breast cancer is through a mammogram, which is basically an x-ray of the breast. The American Cancer Society 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. However, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) takes a more conservative (and somewhat controversial approach) by recommending mammograms for women beginning at age 50 and continuing every two years through age 74. Is is important to do what you feel best, and follow what your doctor recommends due to your specific health and family health history. Many doctors may even recommend women should start getting mammograms when they turn 40 years old, and continue to receive them annually until they are 55. After they reach 55, women have the option to reduce the frequency of their mammograms to every other year (again, depending on their family history).
Even though a mammogram often can detect tumors or cancerous cells before they become physically observable, many doctors still encourage women to perform self-examinations. A self-examination can be performed by doing the following:
- Using a mirror, let your arms hang by your waist. Look for signs of bulges within the skin, the nipple either inverting or extruding abnormally, and redness or rash agitating the area.
- Raise your hands above your head and look for the same signs.
- Observe in these two tests whether any fluid is excreting from your breasts.
- While laying down, either extend outward from your nipples in a circular motion, or go from top to bottom linearly, and try to feel all the tissues of your breast. Be on the look-out for any abnormalities.
- You can perform this test while sitting down or standing up.
It is important to realize not all breast lumps are cancerous. Some are ‘benign’ and it is unlikely they will spread to other tissue. Despite this, they can still serve as a warning sign for an increased risk of breast cancer. Regardless, they should be examined by a specialist.
If you find a lump in your breast during a self-examination or suspect you may have breast cancer, please see your doctor as soon as you can. Detection at an early stage makes a big difference.
Senior Screenings And Detection
For many seniors, in addition to chronic diseases they also face challenges to mobility, which may make home examinations very difficult. Loved ones should keep this in mind, especially if they are receiving home health care.
Home examinations should be carried out at least once a month in our seniors. Not only are they an important part of early breast cancer detection, they help seniors get a sense of what their breasts look like when they are healthy, making it easier to detect any changes. A home care assistance professional can help your loved one carry out a self-exam at home or even do it for them if they are unable to.
Senior women should also go for mammograms on a regular basis and if they can no longer drive, a caregiver should arrange to have them brought for any checkups and testing to help them stay safe and healthy for a long time.
Breast Cancer: Preventative Measures
While there is no way to “prevent” breast cancer from occurring, there are many things women (and men) can do for their health to help lower their risk of developing the disease. These lifestyle and health changes are as follows:
- Maintain A Healthy Diet: 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, and carotenoids are found in many fruits and vegetables. Maintaining a healthy weight is also a big factor in helping to prevent breast cancer. Because of this, it is important to eat a healthy, balanced diet.
- Regular Exercise: As you grow older and your metabolism slows, staying physically active is one of the best ways to manage your weight. 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 cause, though it is not entirely proven. Regular exercise helps to reduce the risk of breast cancer for any woman regardless of their body type. Exercise is also very important for breast cancer survivors.
- 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 BRCA mutation, a gene mutation which increases the risk of breast and ovarian cancer, can be tested for. It’s worth having a discussion about this testing with your personal physician about possibly having this screening.
- Stop Smoking And Limit Alcohol Consumption: Research shows that pre-menopausal women who smoke raise their risk for breast cancer significantly, and for post-menopausal women being exposed to second-hand can be very dangerous. Limiting the alcohol you consume to also reduce the risk of not only breast cancer, but other cancers and diseases. Smoking and high alcohol consumption increases the risk of breast cancer development.
Survival: Why Breast Cancer Awareness Is So Important
When October was deemed National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, it was with the intention of not only educating people about the disease, but also to recognize those who have been/are affected.
In 2017, over 250,000 women are expected to be diagnosed with breast cancer. Despite those numbers, it is important to acknowledge the 83% of women diagnose SURVIVE and WIN the fight against this disease. Today, there are over three million breast cancer survivors in the United States. By raising awareness, we can help create a world full of survivors by ensuring women win every time.
The good news is that death from breast cancer has been on a decline, and this is due in part to the tireless efforts of multiple foundations, organizations and individuals who have made it their mission to educate women. An increased awareness among women and more efforts to detect cancer early have made a tremendous difference, has brought about better treatment options, thus giving those diagnoses a better prognosis for survival.
Women and men alike must educate themselves on the resources available to them in their community in regard to cancer screenings and other preventative measures they can and should be taking.
Breast Cancer Awareness Month is a time to celebrate survivors, become educated, educate and band together to raise awareness to fight the disease.
The National Breast Cancer Foundation (NBCF) is giving away a free “Breast Health Guide” during the month of October in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Visit their website by clicking here to request your copy. This helpful guide will provide information on types and stages of breast cancer as well as how to adopt healthy habits and recognize the signs and symptoms of breast cancer.
To find out more information about breast cancer, here are some additional resources:
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When the time comes to consider home care for your loved one, you may seek help from Unicity’s qualified home care professionals to help ease the burden.
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