October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and we think it’s important for senior women to know exactly what that means for them. 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.
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% 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% 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% lower risk of breast cancer than those who didn’t. Carotenoids are found in fruits and vegetables.
Keep Moving: 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% more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer than women who maintained their weight.
Be Aware of the Risks with Hormone Therapy (HT): Hormone therapy used to be a widely prescribed method of treating hot flashes in women. 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%.
Smoking: Smoking causes a number of diseases and is linked to a higher risk of breast cancer in younger, premenopausal women. Research also has shown that there may be a link between very heavy second-hand smoke exposure and breast cancer risk in postmenopausal women. Quitting a habit like smoking is never easy. Breastcancer.org offers a discussion board that has a thread titled Stop Smoking Support Thread, where you can meet others to give and receive support in your battle to quit smoking.
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. The American Cancer Society recommends 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. Obviously this is a conversation every woman will need to have with her own physician.