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Rona Barrett

Rona Barrett

There is a lot of fear out there right now. And no, I’m not talking about Halloween’s fun fear.

I’m talking about the fear – that is unlike any other – we women live with day in and day out: the fear of breast cancer.

We have every reason to be afraid, especially us seniors. The statistics are haunting. Even though plenty of younger women get this dreaded disease, “80% percent of all breast cancer occurs in women over 50, and 60% are found in women over 65,” according to www.aplaceformom.com.

Here are risk factors cited in their article: Gender (women are 126 times more likely to be diagnosed and die from it than men), race (white and black women have higher rates), age, chest radiation as a child, start of menarche before the age of 12, adolescent weight gain, no pregnancy or late pregnancy after 30, lengthy use of oral contraceptives, post-menopausal weight gain, menopause after age 50, increased breast tissue density. Additionally, smoking, obesity, alcohol, family history, diet, and stress are significant secondary factors. Genetics plays a role as well.

The Breast Cancer Research Foundation says, “the median age of breast cancer is 62 and around one quarter are women between ages 75-84 ... And as the population continues to age, projections estimate invasive breast cancer cases will double by 2030. Most of the cases will be in women ages 70-84.”

Unfortunately, there is no clear consensus on treating older women with breast cancer, according to the BCRF. We respond to treatment differently. We’re at a greater risk of side effects to treatment such as surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and hormone therapy.

Also, functional status of the patient is a factor. “One 75-year-old person may be very independent and active, while another may be confined to home and require daily assistance” and/or have other health conditions, which require medications, and we tend to recover more slowly.

I know it’s scary. But there is good news out there too that will help to allay our fears.

First, the experts agree “the need for finding the best approach to treating cancer patients of advanced age has never been more pressing,” according to Memorial Sloan Kettering’s website at www.mskcc.org entitled Age Appropriate: Treating Cancer in the Older Person.

There have been advances in understanding the importance of personalizing care.

There are ways of treating cancer in people at varying levels of overall health and function.

More research is being done in the areas of genetics and genomic profiling.

There is easier treatment – aromatase inhibitors – for those with tumors that have hormone receptors. www.health.harvard.edu/cancer can give you more details.

At age 80, the chances of us developing breast cancer over the rest of our lives begins to decrease, according to Harvard Medical School.

And there’s more good news, information and help out there. Take a look at www.breastcancer.org and American Cancer Society at www.cancer.org. Locally, we’re fortunate to have the Breast Cancer Resource Center in Santa Barbara at https://www.bcrcsb.org 805-569-9693, the Ridley-Tree Cancer Center at https://www.ridleytreecc.org 805-686-5370, and Mission Hope Cancer Center at https://www.missionhopecancercenter.com/ 805-346-3490.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month so think pink and be aware, not beware ¬– see your doctor about scheduling a mammogram!

Until next time ... keep thinking the good thoughts.

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Senior activist and local resident Rona Barrett is the driving force behind the Golden Inn & Village (GIV), the area’s first affordable senior living facility. GIV strives to bring services to seniors so they may age in place. Reach her at info@ronabarrettfoundation.org. Visit www.ronabarrettfoundation.org for more information.

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