Breast Cancer in Seniors

Breast cancer is a disease that affects thousands of women around the world, making it essential to raise awareness about its causes, symptoms, and available treatment options. This article strives to provide comprehensive information on breast cancer, with resources referenced to facilitate a deeper understanding of this condition.
Woman holding a pin that represents breast cancer in seniors

What is Breast Cancer?

Breast cancer refers to the uncontrollable growth of abnormal cells in the breast tissue. Typically, it starts in the milk-producing glands or the ducts that carry milk from the glands to the nipple. While it predominantly affects women, it can also occur in men, albeit rarely. Early detection within senior healthcare services is key to managing breast cancer effectively, highlighting the significance of routine screenings and self-examinations.
Daughter hugging her older mother who has breast cancer in seniors

Common Causes of Breast Cancer

Identifying the precise causes of breast cancer can be challenging since it often develops from a combination of multiple factors. However, here are some factors that increase the risk:
  • Genetic Factors: Certain gene mutations, such as BRCA1 and BRCA2, can drastically raise the risk of developing breast cancer. Genetic testing can help identify if there is a hereditary predisposition in certain cases.
  • Age and Gender: As with many cancers, the risk of developing breast cancer increases with age. Moreover, being a woman inherently increases the likelihood, although men are not entirely exempt.
  • Family History: Having close relatives, especially first-degree relatives like a mother, sister, or daughter, with a history of breast cancer heightens the risk.
  • Hormonal Factors: Prolonged exposure to estrogen and progesterone, whether naturally through hormone replacement therapy or early menstruation/late menopause, can increase the chances of breast cancer.
Woman with signs of breast cancer examining herself in the mirror

Common Breast Cancer Symptoms in Seniors

It’s crucial to be aware of any changes in your breasts to detect potential symptoms of breast cancer early on. Common signs and symptoms of breast cancer in seniors include:
  • Lump or Thickening: A lump or thickened tissue in the breast or underarm area is often the first noticeable symptom.
  • Changes in Breast Shape or Size: Dimpling, swelling, or noticeable shrinkage in the breast can be indicative of breast cancer.
  • Skin Changes: Redness, scaliness, or puckering of the breast’s skin can indicate an underlying issue.
  • Nipple Changes: Inverted nipples, sudden nipple discharge (clear or bloody), or changes in shape/color are potential signs.
  • Breast Pain: While not always a symptom, breast pain that is persistent or increases over time should be evaluated.

How is Breast Cancer Diagnosed?

Breast cancer screenings in senior primary care check breast tissue for cancer before there are signs or symptoms of the disease3. Checking the breast can be done by a clinical breast exam in which a healthcare provider or nurse examines the breast by using their hands to feel for lumps or other changes. In addition, self-breast exams are encouraged to be performed for all adult women of all ages at least once per month4. A diagnostic test used for screening breast cancer is mammography.  A Mammogram is an X-ray of the breast. For many women, mammograms are the best way to find breast cancer early, when it is easier to treat and before it is big enough to feel or cause symptoms. Having regular mammograms can lower the risk of dying from breast cancer. The United States Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF) now recommends that all women get screened every other year starting at age 40 and continuing to 74 years.  There is currently no recommendation for screening in women 75 years and older should decide with their healthcare provider what is best for their individual needs.


Breast Ultrasound

A machine that uses sound waves to make pictures, called sonograms, of areas inside the breast.


Diagnostic Mammogram

If you have a problem in your breast, such as lumps, or if an area of the breast looks abnormal on a screening mammogram, your healthcare provider may recommend a diagnostic mammogram. This is a more detailed X-ray of the breast.


Breast Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

A kind of body scan that uses a magnet linked to a computer. The MRI scan will make detailed pictures of areas inside the breast



A test that removes a sample of tissue or fluid from the breast to be examined under a microscope. There are different kinds of biopsies (for example, fine-needle aspiration, core biopsy, or open biopsy).

Breast Cancer Treatment Options

Breast cancer treatment aims to eliminate or control the cancerous cells, taking into account the stage and nature of the cancer along with the patient’s overall health. Common treatment options for breast cancer in seniors include the following.


Lumpectomy (removal of the tumor and a small portion of surrounding tissue) or mastectomy (removal of the affected breast) may be recommended.

Radiation Therapy and Chemotherapy

High-energy beams are used to target and destroy cancer cells post-surgery or as a primary treatment. Powerful drugs are administered orally or intravenously to kill cancer cells throughout the body, often used in conjunction with surgery.

Hormonal Therapy and Targeted Therapy

Certain medications may be prescribed to block or reduce hormone levels that fuel the growth of cancer cells. These medications identify specific characteristics of cancer cells to selectively destroy them while sparing healthy cells.

Care for Breast Cancer in Seniors at Greater Good Health

Breast cancer is a complex disease that demands early detection and prompt treatment for the best possible outcomes. Understanding the causes, recognizing symptoms, and exploring various treatment options are vital in the fight against breast cancer. Regular screenings, self-examinations, and consulting with healthcare professionals are essential in ensuring timely intervention. At Greater Good Health, our providers are committed to breast cancer screening and prevention for seniors. Find a primary care clinic near you, and contact us today.
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