What older women should know about breast cancer
Think when you are beyond menopause your risk of breast cancer declines?
Think again. “Actually, the rate goes up significantly every decade,”
says oncologist David Chan, MD.
But there’s good news. Detection gets easier as you age, according
to Chan. And the cancer older women get tends to be less fatal. “We
give pre-cancerous conditions three grades: low, intermediate and high.
Studies are finding that older women skew toward the low and intermediate
types and often do not develop breast cancer," Chan explains. "And
if they do, they may not need surgery. Several hospitals are studying
the effects of not operating on these patients and finding them in very
good health. Torrance Memorial is one of them. Older women commonly have
what’s called estrogen receptor positive cancer. But for those whose
cancer is relatively small and not involving lymph nodes, a lumpectomy
and anti-estrogen medication is sufficient—no radiation or chemotherapy.
This is why regular mammograms (every one or two years) throughout life
“During a regular checkup, we always do a breast examination and
review family history,” says Ricardo Huete, MD, an OB/GYN with Torrance
Memorial Physicians Network. Normally the first baseline mammogram is
at the age of 40.
“There is a lot of misinformation about hormone therapy and the risk
of breast cancer and cardiovascular disease to the point that [it] has
become very controversial to continue the use of hormones beyond menopause,”
Huete says. “However, studies have shown the benefit of the use
of HRT early into menopause. The use of ‘natural’ or ‘bio-identical’
hormones has supported this. Women are living so much longer that HRT
becomes extremely important to maintain a healthy and productive lives.
On the gynecological side, we are the gateway to early detection, and
we emphasize that so strongly—even for patients who no longer have
a uterus. You still have breasts and ovaries, and you need to come in
for your exams.”
Chan believes there needs to be more emphasis on lifestyle changes that
might prevent breast cancer. “Everyone knows you shouldn’t
smoke, but many don’t understand the cancer implication of obesity
and a sedentary lifestyle. Exercise and being more aware of our body size
can prevent most cancers.”
For more information or to make an appointment contact Ricardo E. Huete,
MD, OBGYN at 310-543-5448 and David Chan, MD, Oncology at 310-750-3300.