Seniors: October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month!
Breast cancer that is detected early and treated has a 98% success rate. More research has led to extraordinary leaps in knowledge of how to detect, diagnose and treat breast cancer patients. According to the Mayo Clinic, the radical mastectomy was formerly the standard course of treatment for breast cancer but now is seldomly performed.
Even with all the new research, seniors are still experiencing high rates of breast cancer. Since more women are skipping their annual mammograms fewer women are diagnosed. New technology is only able to help if cancer is detected. It is important to be regularly screened. Regular screening is the most reliable way to reduce breast cancer in all populations including seniors.
The National Cancer Institute has estimated 246,660 new cases of breast cancer and 40,450 people will die from breast cancer in 2016. Every year for more than thirty years’ new cases of breast cancer have increased. Breast Cancer is still the second leading cause of death from cancer. This is why self-screening, early detection and regular mammograms are so important for saving lives.
Knowing the Risks of Getting Cancer Later in Life
Family history can play a role in whether or not you develop cancer. But it is important to know that many people with a family history do not actually get cancer. The Mayo Clinic has composed a list of factors that are thought to increase the possibility of breast cancer. However, most people who have one or more of the listed factors do not develop breast cancer.
List of Risk Factors from The National Cancer Institute & Mayo Clinic:
- Chest radiation in childhood
- First menstrual cycle prior to age 12
- Weight gain in adolescents
- Never pregnant or pregnancy later in life
- Extended use of birth control or other oral contraceptives
- Weight gain post-menopause
- Menopause after age 50
- Increased density in breast tissue
Extended exposure or use of estrogen appears to be dominate factor in breast cancer development. It is being used more and more as a way to ease the comforts of menstrual cramping and pain as well as pre-menopausal syndromes and maladies. Recently there has been a reduction in the use of hormone replacement therapy which could be linked to the slight reduction in breast cancer diagnoses in women 50 years and older. If you have a family history, you should talk with your doctor about the risks involved in hormone replacement treatments.
Smoking, alcohol use, diet, family history, stress and obesity are secondary factors and can have significant effects on your health. It is recommended to maintain a healthy lifestyle, a healthy diet, exercise regularly and manage your stress.
There are some factors that are unavoidable. Genetics can play a part in the development of breast cancer. However, fewer than 10 percent of cases are due to family genetics.
Women age 50 and over make up more than 80% of all breast cancer cases, and women 65 years and older make up more than 60% of breast cancer cases. Women in their thirties have a 1-in-233 chance of developing cancer in their lifetime. That increases to 1-in-8 chance for women in their eighties.
After diagnosis, doctors develop a plan of treatment. The plan should state the stage, location, a detailed descriptions of the cancer along with a complete medical history of the patient.
Treatment for breast cancer is based on the type, stage and number of malignant cells found in each patient. Treatments can be different from one organization to another which is why a second opinion is always recommended at each stage of cancer treatment.
There are four traditional types of treatment:
- Hormone Therapy
There are many types of surgery, including three different levels of a mastectomy. A total mastectomy is when the entire breast is removed. The most commonly performed mastectomy surgery is a modified radical mastectomy which is the removal of the breast as well as the lymph nodes that have been or could be effected by the spread of cancer. A radical mastectomy is the most invasive of the three. It is a complete removal of the breast, all breast tissue, lymph nodes in the underarms and the chest wall under the breast.The lymph nodes are tested and examined after surgery for any cancer cells. Further treatment is determined from the results of these tests. If cancer is found radiation therapy will likely follow if not your doctor may decide on a different follow-up treatment.
A less invasive surgery is a Lumpectomy. This surgery only removes the tumor rather than the removal off all breast tissue. Lumpectomy’s are highly recommended if there is no sign that the cancer has spread in the breast or to other parts of the body. Most commonly a lumpectomy is performed first and followed by to 5 to 7 weeks of radiation therapy.
For more than 100 years’ surgery was the predominate form of treatment for breast cancer. Doctors have started to use new forms of therapies as their first response to cancer. Surgery is still an option and an important one, but doctors are starting to use targeted treatments for more and more patients.
Intense light rises, known as radiation therapy, are used to target and kill cancer cells. The National Cancer Institute reports that radiation therapy can reduce the recurrence of cancer by 50-70%. Radiation kills cancer cells but also kills healthy cells as it cannot decipher between what is a healthy cell and what is a cancerous cell.Radiation can be uncomfortable, but it is far less uncomfortable than many patients believe it to be.
Chemotherapy is an entire body treatment. It is designed to stop the spread and kill cancer cells that are throughout the body. Rapidly dividing cells are the target of chemotherapy. However, both healthy cells and cancer cells divide quickly. Like radiation, chemo is unable to determine what is healthy and what is cancer, which can lead to some unpleasant side effects. There are some new developments that are attempting to reduces these widely known side effects. Chemotherapy treatment is molded to meet the exact needs of each individual patient. There are factors that doctors depend on in order to determine the course of treatment. Factors include but are not limited to, patients current and past health history as well as if there is any family history.
When certain hormones are used to attack cancer cell it is formally called hormone therapy. It is used to treat the whole body and is designed to completely eradicate the body of cancer. Doctors use specific drugs to prohibit cells from developing progesterone or estrogen which causes the growth of breast cancer cells. Sometime is will turn off the production of hormones in the ovaries. Hormone therapy can be used to shrink large tumors, reduce recurrence risk, or to treat the disease in its advanced stages.
There are new developments in treatment. Most recently, immune targeted therapy has been developed to imitate the body’s natural antibodies which attack certain characteristics specific to cancer cells. Immune targeted therapy is used alongside other forms of treatment, most commonly chemotherapy. Researchers are working to develop new techniques to lessen the intensity of therapies like chemo, even hoping to eliminate chemo as a form of treatment.
Sometimes after a diagnosis the patient can have a hard time absorbing all the information doctors have for them. Having a friend or family member attending doctor’s appointments can help reduce the stress and often time the shock of the diagnosis. Having another set of ears there to listen can ease any fear or stress a patient might be feeling. Ask questions and if information is unclear don’t be intimidated to ask for clarification. Most doctors are happy to slow down and answer your questions.
Because it is breast cancer awareness month we suggest it is time to schedule a mammogram. Remember early detection has a 98% success rate. Open the conversation with your family and learn more of your history. The more you know the better treatment plan you can build with your doctor if you or a loved one is diagnosed.