Breast Cancer in the Elderly

The subject of cancer remains a painful one for all of us. Despite all the advancements and improvements that have been made over the years – and they are vast: many things that were once considered fatal are now survived by many – it is something that people still avoid talking or thinking about because of how bleak a subject it can be.

However, cancer doesn’t go away if we don’t say its name. In fact, it becomes more deadly as a result because the less we talk, the more likely it is that we will not notice the early signs and symptoms. Missing these can reduce our quality of life in the long term significantly, or worse.

Subjects as serious as breast cancer, therefore, need to be discussed bluntly. The facts are that breast cancer kills roughly 11,500 people a year. And the risk of breast cancer increases with age, with a third of all diagnoses taking place after the age of 70. Breast cancer in the UK is a vital issue that needs addressing.

Thankfully, more than half the people diagnosed survive, and we can make that survival rate even higher by knowing the early signs and symptoms of breast cancer.

Knowing the symptoms of Breast Cancer

The first noticeable symptom is an area of thickened breast tissue or a lump on the breast. This is something that should be checked for regularly, especially as we get older. A lump can also appear under the armpits.

Other lesser-known symptoms include a noticeable change or size of one of the breasts, discharge from the nipples (either and/or both), and a change in the appearance of the nipple. This can include the nipple becoming sunken into the breast, a rash around the nipple or a dimpling of the surrounding skin. If you or someone you care for experiences any of these, book an appointment with a GP as soon as possible

Not all these symptoms necessarily mean a cancer diagnosis. They could be something entirely different. For instance, many people don’t know that most lumps in the breast are actually not cancerous at all. So, there’s no need to panic. However, it is still important to get checked out because if there is an issue, your likelihood of survival is massively increased by getting to the doctors early.

Early stage breast cancer in elderly patients is much less dangerous than later stage: 90% of women diagnosed at the earliest stage survive for at least five years. This means that breast cancer in elderly women is something that a lot of people can successfully recover from.

Regularly checking for symptoms is one of the most important things you can do in the fight against cancer. Other ways you can help prevent cancer is by maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, lowering your intake of saturated fat and abstaining from alcohol as much as possible. However, if you have been diagnosed with breast cancer, there are still plenty of options available to you for treatment

Treating breast cancer

There are three main breast cancer treatment options for elderly patients, with a combination of surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy being utilised. Usually, surgery is the first treatment, with a follow up of radiotherapy or chemotherapy.

The specifics of your treatment will depend on a multitude of factors, including the stage at which the cancer was diagnosed. Some other treatment types include hormone and biological treatment, although these are less common.

This is a general overview and the best way to understand your breast cancer treatment is always with a full and frank discussion with your doctor. Sadly, in some cases, when cancer has advanced beyond a treatable point, it is not curable. The aim in these instances is symptom relief so that the patient can enjoy the rest of their life as best they can, and as free from pain as possible.

Living with breast cancer

In 2017, there were around 2.5 million people in the UK living with cancer. For those who are recently diagnosed then, it is important to realise that you are not alone. There are millions of people just like you. And in order to live the best life you possibly can, whatever stage you are at, there are certain things to consider.

The top two are your physical and clinical needs. Of course, these need to be evaluated carefully by professionals, but the goals always remain the same. That is to ensure that all such needs are met so going through treatment of any kind is as comfortable and as effective as possible.

On top of that, there are also practical needs. This includes support from friends, family or external sources, such as from wonderful charitable organisation like Breast Cancer Care and Macmillan Cancer Support.

There are also those everyday things like having someone provide you with meals if you find it difficult to cook for yourself. Or having transport to and from your treatment sessions and GP appointments. There are even things that people often don’t think about, like finding high-quality wigs for elderly cancer patients who have lost their hair.

Ultimately, people’s practical needs when living with breast cancer are often the same as our needs in general. They can just be more pronounced because of the stress of the illness. Remember not to neglect things like mental stimulation via entertainment or learning new things. The latter is especially important because it is vital to remember that, unless you have been given a terminal diagnosis, you should always continue to plan for the future and move forward with your life as best you can.

Living with breast cancer is, in essence, about satisfying various needs, from the medical to the emotional and practical. Breast cancer should always be treated with the utmost seriousness. Doing so can mean earlier diagnoses and a better life expectancy. However, it’s also important to know that you still get on with your life long after a diagnosis. After all, cancer can’t stop you from being you.