Breast Cancer and Senior Women

Breast cancer is the second most prevalent cancer in Canadian senior women next to non-melanoma skin cancer.  Men rarely get the cancer, but it is a concern for aging women, especially those who have family members that have been diagnosed with it.

What You Should Know About Breast Cancer

If you have older family members, you need to be aware of the information regarding breast cancer.  Approximately 15% of the female population will die from the disease, and 1 in 9 will be diagnosed with it at some time in their lives.  80% of those diagnosed are over the age of 50.

Risk Factors

Some risk factors can be prevented while others cannot, but it is helpful to know what risk factors you or a loved one may have to make you more watchful for any signs.

  • Family history of breast cancer, especially of immediate family
  • No full-term pregnancies or pregnancy after the age of 30
  • Obesity and lack of physical activity in older women
  • Heavy breast tissue density
  • Menopause at older age (over 55 age) and earlier start of menstruation
  • Alcohol consumption

While some of these are beyond a person’s control, factors such as obesity and lack of physical activity are things that can be improved.  If you can encourage your senior loved one to improve these areas, you will reduce their risk even if they have other factors.

Early detection is essential to successfully treating breast cancer.  If you can diagnose it before there are symptoms, you have a better chance of survival.  At this point, the best test for detection is the mammogram.  While many people stop getting a regular mammogram, it is important that you encourage your mother or grandmother to get one every year or as recommended by her doctor.

According to the Breast Cancer Society of Canada, the death rate for breast cancer has decreased by 35% and is at its lowest since 1950.  This is due to early detection and better preventative measures.


The treatment chosen will depend on several factors, including the location and size of the tumor and if it has spread to any other areas.  Surgery to remove the tumor can be an option in its earliest stages.  Mastectomy is a more drastic form of surgery where not only is the lump removed, but also the entire breast to remove any other cancerous cells.  Other treatment options include chemotherapy, radiation, and drug therapy.  These may be recommended as a standalone treatment or along with a surgery.

All of these treatments have been proven to either reduce or remove the tumor, but the result varies with the individual situation.  They all have potential side effects or complications, especially in older people who do not have as strong of an immune system.  Many treatment options can be harsher on seniors and require a longer recuperation period.

Recovery time from surgery can take several weeks or months in someone that is older.  They may not be able to do many of the tasks that they were able to do before, like cooking their own meals, cleaning their house, or running errands.

For those who must go through chemotherapy, radiation, or drug therapy, they may find that they do not feel well between the appointments or while taking the medicine.  Issues that range from lack of appetite and weight loss to constant fatigue and nausea can make it difficult for them to resume normal activities.

How Others Can Help/Resources

The Breast Cancer Society of Canada provides a list of resources to help with emotional support.  You can often find groups in your local area that provide support to people diagnosed with breast cancer and their family members.  It is important to get your senior loved one involved in a group to keep them from being isolated.

You can also enlist the help of homecare services to take care of the tasks the senior is unable to handle.  They can run errands or do housecleaning and laundry; they can also help with personal care and cook meals for the person.  Having someone with them to visit if they are unable to get out can be a source of comfort.

Carefect Homecare Service provides caring and compassionate caregivers that are experienced in working with those diagnosed with breast cancer.  We can help your family by providing respite care to give you a break when needed.  We can also assist in other tasks to help your loved one remain independent.  Our caregivers will provide the support you and your family need during this time.