Every person dreads the diagnosis of breast cancer regardless of age. However, breast cancer risk increases with age. About a third of female breast cancers are diagnosed in patients over the age of 70. Studies show that one out of eight women who reach the age of eighty in the U.S. will develop breast cancer at some point in her life, and half of those cases will be women between the ages of sixty-five and eighty. Although rare, breast cancer can occur in the breast tissue of men. This form of cancer is most common among older men with the average diagnosis being sixty and older. For both men and women over the age of sixty a cancer diagnosis and treatment require unique attention and care management decisions.
Breast cancer-related mortality rates are higher in older adults as many have additional chronic disease concerns and physical frailties. Older breast cancer patients are increasingly vulnerable to poorer outcomes with lower survival rate compared to younger patients. This is primarily associated with delays in diagnosis and the incomplete or haphazard assessment and treatment of breast cancer in older patients. Older patients can have wide variability in health status, mental and physical functionality, medication regimens or pre-existing complex conditions. This can affect treatment options such as undergoing chemotherapy, radiation or surgery. Depending on a combination of factors related to diagnosis, treatment and health status, older patients may require family and caregiver engagement, additional social support, and more routine monitoring and follow-up, which can be overlooked by many doctors.