Breast cancer is scary at any age, especially since according to U.S. Breast Cancer Statistics, 1 in 8 women will develop it in their lifetime. However, for those who are 60 or older, the chance of developing breast cancer is greater.
Preventative procedures such as routine breast exams and mammograms have provided patients with favorable results — mammography screening every two years has been shown to reduce deaths related to breast cancer in patients between the ages of 65 and 74. But what are the treatment options for those seniors who have already been diagnosed?
Because an elderly patient’s immune system is not as strong as a younger person’s, their body may respond differently to breast cancer treatment. This is notably true in the case of radiation if the patient is not initially healthy (although radiation has been known to treat elderly patients very effectively).
Radiation therapy is the use of high-energy waves to kill cancer cells. Radiation therapy is typically recommended every day or multiple times a week depending on the cancer of the patient.
However, even in a cancer care center, a doctor may recommend less radiation treatment for an elderly patient than they would a younger person lest the patient’s health were to decline. However, depending on the initial health of the patient (if the patient doesn’t suffer from other illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, etc), radiation therapy may be used at a normal rate.
Chemotherapy is the use of chemical substances to kill off cancer cells. Unlike radiation therapy, chemotherapy is known for its more negative side effects such as digestive issues like nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
Chemotherapy may not be the most recommended cancer treatment for older patients specifically because of its toll on the body. Even in younger patients, chemotherapy may cause lowered blood cell levels, but in elderly patients a decrease in white blood cells could be worrisome.
Mastectomies are common surgical procedures in relation to breast cancer. A mastectomy is the total removal of the breast. There are five different types of breast-removal surgical procedures: a simple mastectomy, which removes the entire breast and tissue; a double mastectomy, which removes both breasts; a skin-sparing mastectomy, which leaves the skin of the breast intact for breast reconstruction; a nipple-sparing mastectomy, which leaves the skin and nipple of the breast intact for breast reconstruction; and a radical mastectomy, which removes the entire breast as well as the lymph nodes of the underarm and the pectoral muscle below the affected breast.
Like most surgical procedures, there may be potential health risks due to your age. If you’re thinking of undergoing a mastectomy, or any other breast cancer treatment, be sure to talk to your doctor or family physician about your cancer treatment options and how radiation, chemotherapy, and surgery may affect your heart, lung, kidney, liver, or immune function.
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