Breast cancer is just as common in women over the age of 65; in fact, a woman’s chance of being diagnosed with breast cancer drastically increases with age. According to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, a woman in her thirties has a 1 in 233 chance of being diagnosed, while a woman in her eighties has a 1 in 8 chance. 85 percent of all breast cancer occurs in women over the age of 50, and 60 percent of cases are found in women over the age of 65. On average, women are diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 62. 1 These statistics show the importance of proactive testing and early detection.

Risk Factors

There are many risk factors that increase a woman’s chance of developing breast cancer. These include:

  • Age
  • Family history
  • Late menopause (after the age of 50)
  • Post-menopausal weight gain
  • Adolescent weight gain
  • Increased breast tissue density
  • Using oral contraceptive for a long period of time
  • The number and timing of pregnancies
  • Receiving chest radiation as a child
  • When menstruation began and ended

Other important factors to consider:

  • Alcohol intake
  • Tobacco use
  • Diet
  • Obesity
  • Environment
  • Stress

With age being the predominant cause for breast cancer in seniors, it is important to receive proper screening and treatment. Improper or a lack of screenings can lead to late detection and the discovery of a large tumor as opposed to early detection by a mammogram or other screening technique. Oftentimes, older women have other chronic medical conditions that may take the focus away from proper breast evaluation, which may lead to late detection.

Early Detection is Key

The sooner a lump or tumor is caught, the less aggressive the treatment plan has to be. That is why it is important to have all three types of breast examinations conducted frequently. These exams include the self-exam, clinical exam and mammogram. A self-exam should be done weekly, in order to look for changes in breast size and to detect any lumps. Be sure to ask your health care provider to do a clinical exam whenever you have an office visit, or at least once a year at your annual physical. Mammogram screening is the best way to detect problems, so be sure to ask for one yearly. 2

Common Symptoms

If you notice any of the following changes or symptoms, be sure to address them and discuss with your doctor:

  • A lump or thickening in or near the breast or in the underarm area.
  • Skin irritation including scaly or red skin on any part of the breast.
  • Breast pain or nipple pain.
  • The nipple turning inward.
  • Fluid other than breast milk coming from the nipple.
  • A new lump (or any change) that feels different from the rest of your breast; a new lump (or any change) that feels different from your other breast.
  • A dimple or puckering in the skin of the breast. Dimples in the breast that look like the skin of an orange.
  • Anything that is different from what you felt before.
  • A change in the size or shape of the breast.
  • Swelling of all or part of the breast. 3
  • Treatment Options

If breast cancer is detected, there are a number of different treatment options available. These can be used alone, or in combination with each other, depending on each case, individually. The most common treatment plans include radiation, chemotherapy, hormonal interventions and surgery. All factors considered, it is important for everyone to take charge of their own breast health, and be their own health care advocate in order to make sure that any irregularities are detected early.

1. Breast Cancer Is Just As Common in Senior Citizens.” Cars to Cure Cancer. The Breast Cancer Research Foundation, 21 Aug. 2014. Web. 26 Oct. 2015. <http://www.carstocurebreastcancer.org/news/senior-citizens-day/>.

2. Lanza, Sue. “Breast Cancer Risk in Older Women.” ElderCarelink. QuinStreet, Inc., n.d. Web. 26 Oct. 2015. <http://www.eldercarelink.com/Other-Resources/Health/breast-cancer-risk-in-older-women.htm>.

3. “Know The Facts: The Top Ten Warning Signs Of Breast Cancer.” Know The Facts: The Top Ten Warning Signs Of Breast Cancer. Breast Cancer Research Foundation, 17 July 2014. Web. 26 Oct. 2015. <http://www.carstocurebreastcancer.org/news/10-warning-signs-of-breast-cancer/>.