Breast Cancer Treatment More Complicated for Older Women, New York Times States

October is breast cancer awareness month, and everything from water bottles to 5ks will likely be pink-hued for the next 30-some days. However, amid the “Save Second Base” banners and calls for improved women’s healthcare, one group is being all but left out of the conversation about care and treatment: elderly women. More precisely, an article out of the Times last month suggests that elderly women’s age-specific health concerns are often overlooked when battling breast cancer, and doctors’ aggressive treatment of the disease may not be in the best interest of older patients. This week, we’re looking into the matter and asking how doctors could improve the treatment of older women fighting breast cancer.

an elderly woman suffering from breast cancer

What treatment is currently being used?

Currently, breast cancer treatment for women in nursing homes is surgery. Surgical intervention is the most common treatment for breast cancer for all women, according to the National Breast Cancer Foundation. Types of surgery can include a lumpectomy, mastectomy, lymph node removal, or a combination of these. However, a new study shows that surgery may be causing more harm than good to elderly women in nursing homes.

What are the effects of surgical breast cancer treatment in elderly women?

The article was published in JAMA Surgery, a monthly medical journal, in late August. It released the conclusions of a study of nearly 6,000 women in nursing homes who underwent surgery as a treatment for their breast cancer. It concluded, “for female nursing home residents who underwent breast cancer surgery, 30-day mortality and survival as well as 1-year mortality and functional decline were high.” In fact, 30-day mortality rates for the women in the study who underwent a lumpectomy was 8% even though it is generally considered a low-risk outpatient treatment. Many of those who did survive the 30-day and 1-year marks still showed severe physical decline.

Dr. Rita Mukhtar, one of the co-authors of the study, was quoted in the Times article stating, “the surgical treatment for breast cancer may have been worse than the breast cancer itself.” The conclusions went on to suggest that these findings should be taken into account when discussing treatment options for elderly women battling breast cancer.

a group of women that are survivors of breast cancer

When to talk to a doctor

While it is important to regularly check yourself for unexpected lumps or moles, getting checked by a doctor is equally as important, especially for women with a family history of breast or other cancers, smoking, or other complications which may increase breast cancer risks. Another study reports that though 47% of breast cancer deaths occur in women over 70, overdiagnosis is also common in this age group, so be open when discussing treatment options with your doctor.

If you’re looking into assisted living services that can help you take better care of yourself or a loved one, call The Waterford today. We’re here to help.

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