October 1st, 2020 | Senior Health
Knowledge Is the Best Defense Against Breast Cancer
Breast cancer is an unsettling topic for any woman. Besides the dread it induces, cancer also perplexes and frustrates with its unpredictability. Some general risk factors for any person’s chance of having breast cancer have been established, but more is unknown than known about the specific causes and how or if they can be predicted in any given person. In fact, 60-70% of women with breast cancer have none of the risk factors in their backgrounds, while others with these specific risk factors never develop cancer. This puts the pressure on early detection and being always vigilant, that is, regular screening by your doctor, self-examination and being educated about early symptoms. In a word, knowing.
October is an entire month dedicated to knowing more about breast cancer. Breast Cancer Awareness Month brings a special focus to a disease projected to affect 276,480 women and to cause 42,170 deaths this year. The topic of breast cancer among senior women gets less conversation than it should. This month would be an opportunity to change that.
The Particular Problem of Age and Cancer
So many of the dramatizations of breast cancer in the media and advertising feature women under 50 or 60 that you could get the impression that it is primarily a younger woman’s disease. But the Breast Cancer Research Foundation actually terms breast cancer “a disease of aging.” The Foundation reports that the median age for breast cancer is 62 and that around a quarter of women who develop the cancer are between 75-84. The population overall continues to age, and the result for breast cancer will be a doubling of cases by 2030, with most of the affected between the ages of 70 and 84.
Understanding breast cancer in older women may require a radical change in perception, then. Why the seeming bias? Many circumstances contribute. For one thing, older adults are most often excluded from clinical trials. Inevitably, the research reports for a younger population. This also creates a knowledge gap in the medical professions. The lack of geriatric oncologists, those physicians who specialize in cancer among the aging, further limits the understanding and clear pathways to treatment.
Of the many types, the predominant breast cancer is generally in the category of invasive or infiltrating breast cancer, accounting for 70-80% of all cases. This type invades the milk ducts of the surrounding breast tissue and spreads. The treatment depends on the protein structure of the cancer cells, and will probably require a biopsy to determine the cell makeup. Far too many variables to describe here apply. The point is that only your doctor and specialist can make diagnoses and should be consulted early and regularly for examinations. Self-diagnosing, as with all disease, is particularly untrustworthy, but self-examination is recommended and useful.
Lifestyle and Environment Risk Factors
Legend Senior Living® puts the health care of seniors first. While the term “health care” may conjure all things clinical, the practice of health and wellness at every Legend community is part of the purposeful design of the residence itself. This includes the physical environment, the activities comprising our Life Enrichment programming, the concentration on proper nutrition and options for exercise, no matter the resident’s mobility limitations.
All of these factors are extremely important to reducing risks of disease and physical injury generally, and cancer in particular. The National Breast Cancer Foundation lists a few of the major factors that you can modify to influence your own health. At Legend communities, our Legend Experts in Senior Living™, our staff of associates, are well-trained in assisting residents with lifestyle modification that can reduce your risk of breast cancer.
Exercise and Activity
A lack of physical activity directly relates to your risk for breast cancer. Increasing activity reduces your risk. This activity can take many forms, and well-designed senior living residences offer dozens of combinations. A few minutes a day in a fully equipped exercise room, especially with the coaching of an Associate, can be fun, rewarding, and not too physically demanding. Group exercise, aerobics, water aerobics, games and sports also abound.
Diet is especially important in reducing breast cancer risk. Older adults tend to have diets higher in saturated fat, because eating habits were long established before we knew as much as we do now about the effect of fat intake on health. Too, if a senior is unable to grocery shop as frequently as they’d like, their diet may lack fruits and vegetables essential to prevent diet-related health issues, cancer in particular. Residents at a well-staffed senior living community should have the option for three chef-prepared meals every day, all designed under the supervision of a licensed nutritionist.
Eating and Drinking Habits
Being overweight or obese can increase your risk for breast cancer, especially post-menopause. So does overconsumption of alcohol. Both of these factors can be greatly influenced by lifestyle. The more active you are, with better control of your diet, the easier it is to control your weight and lessen the need for medication (alcohol being a common type of self-medication for depression and loneliness).
Older women should also be aware of the effects of having had radiation therapy to the chest before the age of 30, as well as having taken hormone replacement therapy for menopause. Both factors can increase the risks of breast cancer. Consulting your physician is the best practice in these cases.
What Doesn’t Cause Breast Cancer
Being well-informed and knowledgeable about breast cancer can keep a lot of stress out of your life. It will also keep you from pursuing procedures and “remedies” that are ineffective, unnecessary or radical. The following are all cited as Myths About Breast Cancer by the National Breast Cancer Foundation:
- Finding a lump in your breast does not mean automatically mean you have breast cancer
- A mammogram will not cause breast cancer to spread
- Having a family history of breast cancer does not mean you are likely to develop breast cancer, too
- Breast cancer is not contagious
- Showing the gene mutation BRCA1 or BRCA2 in your DNA does not mean you will definitely develop breast cancer
- Antiperspirants and deodorants do not cause breast cancer
Breast Cancer Awareness Month this October is the perfect occasion to learn, but let it be just a start to year-round awareness and vigilance, especially for older adults. Regular visits to your physician can’t be replaced by any amount of education, so don’t skip your checkups!