Community Blog

Death Rates Declining Despite More Diagnoses of Breast Cancer in Aging Adults

By Debbie Humphrey

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and for a change, there was some good news reported regarding breast cancer: death rates are decreasing!

Dr David Agus reported this news October 3, on CBS This Morning, Morning Rounds segment. Even though death rates are declining, the problem remains that one in eight women will still be diagnosed with this disease in their lifetime, which is a statistic that mirrors that of senior women and breast cancer.

“The chance a woman will get breast cancer increases from 1-in-233 for women in their thirties, to a 1-in-8 chance for a woman in her eighties,” according to one article published by aPlaceforMom.

Even though the incidents of breast cancer continue to rise, the fact that treatments are becoming more successful gives us reason enough to hope!

Dr Agus said, “A 40% decrease over the last three decades in breast cancer, that’s great news! The problem is women are still dying from this horrible disease. One in eight women will get it. We as a nation are getting larger and we’re having fewer children. Being obese increases the rate of breast cancer. Not having children increases the rate of breast cancer. We’re getting a little bit better at treating it, though, and that’s why death rates are going down.  There’s real hope we’ll continue to lower the death rates.”

Those at greatest risk for breast cancer are older women, but men can also have the life-threatening disease. Genetics, family history, breast density and chest radiation treatments (for separate conditions or incidents of cancer), are also risk factors beyond our control.

Risk factors women can control include:

  • Giving birth to a first child before age 30, lowers the risk.
  • Post-menopausal women using hormone replacement therapy with estrogen and progesterone have an increased risk of breast cancer.
  • Drinking two or more alcoholic beverages a day puts women at a one to one-and-a-half greater risk than women who do not drink.
  • Being overweight or obese makes us more susceptible to the disease.
  • Lactating and breast-feeding have shown to lower the risk of breast cancer.

As I previously mentioned, men are at risk of developing breast cancer, too, only not as frequently. Even though male breast cancer isn’t as prevalent as with females, the threat is still very real, and some of the same risk factors apply.

The five primary risk factors for male breast cancer include:

  • Aging. As in women, the danger of developing breast cancer increases with age. The average age of a man diagnosed with breast cancer is 68.
  • Elevated Estrogen. Increased estrogen levels stimulate breast cell growth in men and women. This is true for both good and bad tissue cells. Men can have higher estrogen levels as a result of being overweight; taking hormonal medications; exposure to environmental estrogen (like that found in substances used to fatten beef cattle, or the by-products of the breakdown of some pesticides, which imitate estrogen); increased alcohol consumption; and liver disease.
  • Klinefelter Syndrome. This condition occurs when a male is born with an extra X-chromosome (or chromosomes, as the case may be), which decreases levels of androgen (male hormone) and increases levels of estrogen in the body. It affects approximately 1 in 1000 men and is a definite risk factor for the development of gynecomastia (non-cancerous breast tissue growth), as well as breast cancer.
  • Family History. Genetics always plays a role when it comes to diseases and conditions. If you are pre-disposed to breast cancer, male or female, the likelihood of you developing breast cancer is higher, and regular self and professional exams is recommended. Men who inherit abnormalBRCA1 or BRCA2 genes (BR = BReast, CA = CAncer), have an increased risk of male breast cancer.*
  • Radiation Exposure. Men treated with radiation in the thoracic or chest regions for things such as lymphoma are also at greater risk for developing breast cancer.

There are physical changes that you can see or feel when you perform a self-exam to check your breasts, which you should do on a regular basis. They are:

  • A lump or thickening in or around the breast and underarm area
  • A change in the size or shape of the breast
  • A noticeable nipple discharge (not including lactation)
  • A nipple that turns inward
  • A change in the color or feel of the skin on or near the breast or underarm area

The American Cancer Society recommends women between the ages of 45-54 have an annual mammogram. If you are age 55+, and in good physical health, a mammogram might only be needed every-other year, if risk factors are lower.

Of course, every person and every situation is different. If breast cancer is detected, or if there are reasons for further examinations, breast ultrasounds, MRI scans, experimental breast imaging, biopsy and other tests may be in order, as well as undergoing current treatment options. There are also clinical trials underway globally, in search of new and improved ways to treat breast cancer.

As Dr Agus reported, treatments that continue to evolve and have become more successful in decreasing the breast cancer death rate include:

  • Radiation
  • Chemotherapy
  • Hormone Therapy
  • Targeted Therapy
  • Immunotherapy
  • Surgery

DNA testing for the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes has also been “democratized”, said Dr Agus. This means, since Angelina Jolie awakened us to the science in 2013, the tests have become much more accessible to men and women because the costs have decreased. A DNA test for BRCA1 or BRCA2 are typically less than $100, nowadays, rather than multiple thousands that would've been charged only five years ago. 

If you know a senior with breast cancer, or someone struggling through difficult treatment sessions alone, I have compassionate caregivers at Home Helpers® who can assist with light housework, meal preparation, companionship, personal care, and safe, reliable transportation assistance to/from doctor appointments and treatments.

I offer a FREE in-home consultation to discuss the scope of needs and offer specific ways our caregivers can be of assistance. I also have numerous resources that can help when breast cancer invades your family. It’s not only a disease that affects the person with the diagnosis, but it deeply affects everyone who loves them.

We, at Home Helpers® Clearwater, are honored to have received the Home Care Pulse – Best of Home Care® Provider of Choice Award for 2017, 2018 & 2019. We proudly serve male and female seniors in Clearwater, Dunedin, Palm Harbor, Safety Harbor, Tarpon Springs, Holiday, New Port Richey, Trinity, Port Richey, Hudson and surrounding areas. Home Helpers®…we are Making Life Easier℠ 727.942.2539


CBS This Morning, Morning Rounds