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Breast Cancer In Older Adults: Types, Causes, Signs & Symptoms

Breast Cancer in Older Adults: Types, Causes, Signs & Symptoms

According to, the death rate for cancer in the U.S. has dropped 27% in the last 25 years, which is cause for hope, especially with early diagnosis and treatment. also reports that the number of new cases of breast cancer has been decreasing since the year 2000, possibly as a result of reduced usage of hormone replacement therapy.

Still, it is estimated that 268,600 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in women in the U.S. in 2019 alone, as well as 62,930 new cases of non-invasive breast cancer.  About 1 in every 8 women will experience breast cancer in the course of her life.  Although instances of death due to a variety of cancers have been on the decline, approximately 41,760 women in the U.S. are predicted to die from breast cancer in 2019.  Breast cancer remains the second most fatal form of cancer for women, following lung cancer.

Even more troubling is the fact that about 85% of new cases occur in women who have no history of breast cancer, and this is typically attributed to the aging process, rather than inherited gene mutations.  According to Harvard Medical School, roughly half of all cases of newly diagnosed breast cancer occur in women over the age of 60, with an additional 20% in women over the age of 70.  After 80, numbers decrease, but older women need to remain vigilant, watching for signs and symptoms.  Even with early diagnosis, breast cancer is more likely to be fatal for women over the age of 65, according to one major study.

Knowledge is the best weapon in the fight against breast cancer, which is why it’s so important for women to understand different types of breast cancer and what causes them, as well as signs and symptoms to watch for.  Here’s what you need to know heading into your senior years.

Types of Breast Cancer

There are two main types of breast cancer: invasive and non-invasive.  The latter, sometimes referred to as carcinoma in situ (or in the same place), pertains to cancers that are localized to certain areas, including the milk ducts or lobules, and that do not spread.  Invasive cancers, on the other hand, spread to healthy tissue.  Unfortunately, most breast cancers are of the invasive variety.

DCIS (Ductal Carcinoma in Situ) and LCIS (Lobular Carcinoma in Situ) are non-invasive types, but they must be taken seriously.  The latter is often a precursor to the development of invasive cancers.

As for different form of invasive cancer, IDC (Invasive Ductal Carcinoma) is the most common type.  It first appears in the milk duct and then spreads to healthy tissue.  There is also ILC (Invasive Lobular Carcinoma), which first appears in the lobule and spreads to surrounding tissue.  You’ll need a professional diagnosis to determine whether cancerous cells in the milk ducts or lobules are invasive or non-invasive, and this could significantly affect prognosis and treatment.

There are other, less common types of breast cancer to be aware of, as well, including cribriform, medullary, mucinous, papillary, and tubular carcinomas, which feature cells that behave differently from typical, invasive ductal carcinomas.  Some of the rarest forms of breast cancer include fast-growing inflammatory breast cancer, notable for redness and swelling of the breast (rather than the appearance of a lump), as well as Paget’s Disease, characterized by cancer cells that center in or around the nipple before spreading to other areas.

Angiosarcoma, which affects blood and lymph vessels, can be found anywhere in the body, including the breast.  Don’t forget, there is also metastatic breast cancer, which has spread beyond the breast to invade other organs in the body, as well as recurrent breast cancer that returns following treatment.

Causes of Breast Cancer

There are several possible contributors to the formation of breast cancer, including:

  • Gender
  • Age
  • Heredity/genetics/family history
  • Race
  • Dense breast tissue
  • Reproductive history
  • Previous occurrence of breast cancer

As noted, many women with newly diagnosed breast cancer have no family history, although they may be genetically predisposed to developing certain cancers.  Women with the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genetic markers have roughly a 70% chance of developing cancer by the age of 80.  Although men can also get breast cancer (with about 2,670 new cases of invasive breast cancer predicted in 2019), gender and age are the two leading risk factors associated with the onset of breast cancer, with women over the age of 60 in the highest-risk category.

Signs and Symptoms

Early detection is a key factor in surviving breast cancer at any age, which is why you should schedule regular screenings, including mammogram, ultrasound, MRI, and so on.  That said, it’s also important to perform self-exams in between, and this requires you to understand signs and symptoms of breast cancer.

The most common sign of breast cancer is a lump, which may be detected in the course of a self-breast exam, as well as through testing like a mammogram.  Breast lumps are frequently benign, but about 20% prove to be cancerous when biopsied, so if you feel a lump, you need to have it checked out, especially over the age of 40.

Aside from lumps, there are several possible signs and symptoms that could be linked to the development of breast cancer, including:

  • Breast swelling and soreness
  • Localized or general redness of the breast
  • Nipple inversion (inward turning nipple)
  • Dimpling (inversion of skin, similar to nipple inversion)
  • Breast discharge
  • Underarm swelling and tenderness (potentially indicating cancer cells spreading to lymph nodes)
  • Peeling, flakiness, or other skin changes around the areola or on other breast tissue

Although many of these symptoms could be attributed to other causes, they should serve as a warning sign that something is wrong, and the fact that they can be linked to breast cancer should spur you to action.  Early detection and diagnosis are your greatest weapons in the fight against breast cancer, so as you get older, it becomes more and more important to perform self-breast exams and schedule regular checkups.

If you or your family member is considering in-home care as part of a plan to age in place, contact Family Matters In-Home Care today for a free consultation.  Our team is dedicated to supporting your family and helping older adults enjoy life in the comfort of their own home for as long as possible.

Some of the services offered by Family Matter In-Home Care include: Alzheimer’s & Dementia CareBed & Wheelchair Transfer AssistanceCompanionshipHousekeeping & Meal PreparationPersonal CareRecovery Care, and Transportation.

Serving the San Francisco Bay Area and Greater San Diego, Family Matter In-Home Care has offices throughout California including: Campbell, CARoseville, CASan Marcos, CA, and San Mateo, CA.

Carol Pardue-Spears

Carol has worked in the healthcare field for more than forty years. As a Certified Nursing Assistant, she worked for El Camino Hospital in the cardiac unit, Los Gatos Community Hospital, The Women’s Cancer Center in Los Gatos and several home health and hospice agencies. Carol founded Family Matters in 2002 to fill a deficit she witnessed in high-quality, in-home services and care.

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