October: Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Breast cancer is the second-most common cancer in women; the average woman has a 1 in 8 chance of being diagnosed with breast cancer at some point in her life. Breast cancer is highly treatable when detected early, however in many cases, the cancer is found after it has already metastasized.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, so let’s talk about the number one risk factor for breast cancer.

Age: the top risk factor for breast cancer.

A woman’s risk of developing the disease goes up with age—80 percent of all breast cancer occurs in women over age 50. Because of this startling statistic, current medical guidelines recommend all women over the age of 40 have a mammogram screening every year. Medicare covers annual mammogram screenings for beneficiaries age 40 and up.

Mammograms, as well as physical exams, remain the best way to detect breast cancer early. However, doctors are noticing a frightening downward trend in screenings over the last few years. This may be due to the cost of mammograms for women who are under-insured. Most women only get onto Medicare at age 65—that’s 25 years after the appropriate time to get your first mammogram.

Other breast cancer risk factors

Besides age, there are several other primary risk factors for the cancer. If you have one or more of these factors, you should be especially conscientious about getting your annual mammogram. It’s also worthwhile to learn how to do a self-exam, so you can catch any abnormalities and bring it up to your doctor right away.

Here are the primary risk factors according to the Mayo Clinic:

  • Underwent chest radiation as a child
  • Began menses before the age of 12
  • Experienced adolescent weight gain
  • Had no pregnancies, or one or more late pregnancy (after age 30)
  • Used oral contraceptives for an extended period
  • Experienced post-menopausal weight gain
  • Experienced late menopause (after age of 50)
  • Has increased breast tissue density

Other risk factors include—like virtually all cancers—smoking, obesity, alcohol, family history, diet, and stress.

Breast cancer in seniors

Senior women make up the majority of breast cancer cases; the average age of diagnosis is 62 years old. Seniors with breast cancer undergo additional hardship because it’s hard for doctors to gauge the proper levels of chemo for aging patients.

Another problem seniors face is mobility and transportation for doctor’s appointments, as well as increased nausea and other debilitating side effects that worsen with age.

Seniors suffering from breast cancer may find that moving into a senior living community can ease their cancer journey, as they are embraced by friends and neighbors throughout the ordeal. In addition, living at a continuing care retirement community like Bridgeway Senior Living can simplify life for seniors with breast cancer, by taking care of all household chores and maintenance.

Senior women who are diagnosed with breast cancer early have the same survival rates as younger women. Once you get onto Medicare, the financial obstacle to your annual mammogram screening is removed. If you haven’t gotten screened recently, schedule your mammogram today.