October is often marked by celebrations such as fall festivals, getting ready for trick or treating or planning the family holiday celebrations. We look with joy to these life events every year and the memories we will make as family caregivers to our senior loved ones.
This month we also celebrate and spread awareness about Breast Cancer. It is not as joyous as our other fall occasions but it is very important to learn all we can for our senior’s health and our own as caregivers.
The statistics are striking and don’t seem to be lessening quickly although there has been an overall decline in new cases since 2000 when many women ceased their hormone replacement therapy (HRT).
- 1 in 8 women will develop breast cancer over their lifetime; 2 out of 3 are diagnosed in women over 55
- In 2014, 2,360 new cases of breast cancer expected in MEN! Over his lifetime, a man’s risk for breast cancer is 1 in 1,000
- 40,000 women in the U.S. were expected to die in 2014 from breast cancer
- In 2014, 2.8 million women had a history of breast cancer – those currently undergoing treatment and those who completed treatment
- 85% of women diagnosed with breast cancer had no family history
- The greatest risk factors for breast cancer are gender (female) and age
Aging and Risk for Breast Cancer
Naturally as our population of aging citizens increases, the number of older women who are diagnosed with breast cancer will continue to increase as well. The incidence of most cancers is higher at older ages including breast cancer.
A new study reports that there are risk factors that contribute to a breast cancer diagnosis, one of which we can change.
- Family history of breast cancer
- A higher Body Mass Index (BMI), obesity
- Older age at menopause
There has been shown to be a peak in new diagnosis in women aged 75-79 years. It has been proposed that the earlier age of a woman’s first live birth and the number of births overall when high (>/= 5) is thought to have a protective effect on postmenopausal breast cancer diagnosis.
Options if Breast Cancer is Detected
If you or your senior loved one is diagnosed with breast cancer there are options for treatments you should consider. Discuss all your options with your doctor and get a second opinion if you feel you need more information.
- Lumpectomy in which the surgeon removes the cancerous tumor and surrounding tissue, but preserves the rest of the breast. This is followed by radiation treatments and possibly chemotherapy.
- Single mastectomy in which the entire breast is removed. Lymph nodes are also taken to be tested.
- Double mastectomy which removes both affected and unaffected breasts unless both have tumors. New plastic surgery techniques that achieve breast symmetry through bilateral reconstruction may make double mastectomy more appealing to some women.
There are about 5% of breast cancer patients with mutations in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes. If such women develop cancer in one breast, they face a high risk of developing cancer in the opposite breast—as well as a high risk of ovarian cancer. Some women who opt for a double mastectomy in hopes of preventing the spread of breast cancer may not be improving their odds of survival according to a new study by the National Institute of Health. Be sure to discuss all options and outcomes with your doctor.
Prevention for Caregivers and Their Senior Loved Ones
There are strategies that you and your senior loved one should adopt to prevent breast cancer and detect it in its earliest stage if present which will improve treatment outcomes.
- Get your mammogram as scheduled – women aged 50 and older who regularly got mammograms had a 10-23 %lower risk of dying from breast cancer than their peers who did not
- Get scheduled clinical breast exam
- Do a monthly breast self-check – know what you are looking for and report anything suspicious to your doctor
- Eat a healthy, nutritious diet – eat adequate amounts of fruits and vegetables as well as a diet low in overall fat
- Maintain an appropriate weight
- Limit alcohol (3 drinks a week raises your risk 15% and 10% more for each additional drink)
- Exercise regularly
- Stop smoking
- Get out in the sunshine and ask your doctor about Vitamin D3 supplements (low levels of Vitamin D linked to increased risk for breast cancer)
Regular preventive health checks including screenings such as mammograms are covered under the Medicare Affordable Care Act healthcare program.
Caregivers need to be sure they are getting preventive checkups and screening themselves and not just for their senior loved ones. There are things you can do to improve your risk. Taking care of yourself is the right thing to do so you can take care of them for as long as they need you!
By Kathy Birkett
Co-Founder of Senior Care Corner
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Kathy is Senior Care Corner’s expert on the lives and care of senior adults, expertise she has gained through over 30 years working with seniors, families and other caregivers in both her professional and personal lives. Kathy has worked with seniors in their homes as well as in nursing homes, assisted living facilities, rehabilitation and hospital settings. Kathy has a passion for advocacy, education and improving the life of seniors and has shared this passion to her connections in Senior Care Corner and a variety of community-based and online support groups. Kathy is a champion for the caregiver and works to help them be able to meet the needs of those for whom they care while also meeting their own needs.
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