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Older Women are Most at Risk for Breast Cancer

  • Category: General Health
  • Posted On:
  • Written By: Matt Gougler
Older Women are Most at Risk for Breast Cancer

There's no getting around the harsh truth:

If you are an older adult woman you have an elevated risk of breast cancer.

In fact, 80% of all breast cancer occurs in women over age 50, and 60% of breast-cancer diagnoses are in women age 65 and above. Women in their eighties have a one-in-eight chance of having breast cancer.

Of course, every woman's first choice is to avoid breast cancer altogether. With that goal in mind, ATRIO Health Plans is recognizing October's designation as National Breast Cancer Awareness Month by sharing information about breast cancer risks, symptoms, detection, and prevention.


According to the National Cancer Institute, breast cancer risk factors include:

  • Being over the age of 50;
  • Receiving chest radiation as a child;
  • Starting to menstruate before the age of 12;
  • Gaining significant weight during adolescence;
  • Becoming pregnant after age 30 or never being pregnant;
  • Using oral contraceptives for an extended period;
  • Experiencing post-menopausal weight gain;
  • Beginning menopause after age 50;
  • Having breast tissue increase in density.


Most people associate breast cancer with a lump. In reality, however, not all breast cancer is accompanied by a lump. Other symptoms of breast cancer include:

  • Breast swelling (either all or just a portion of the breast);
  • Skin irritation or dimpling (resembling an orange peel);
  • Breast or nipple pain;
  • Nipple retraction (turning inward);
  • Redness, appearance of scales, or thickening of the nipple or breast skin;
  • Nipple discharge (other than breast milk);
  • Sometimes, when a breast cancer tumor is not large enough to be felt, cancer can spread to lymph nodes under the arm or around the collar bone and cause a lump or swelling in those areas.


Treatment is most effective when breast cancer is detected in its early stages, and the most effective means of early detection is having a mammogram.

For woman ages 50 to 74, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends a screening via mammogram every other year. However, for women age 75 and over, the USPSTF has concluded that the current evidence is insufficient to assess the benefits versus potential harm of mammography screenings for women 75 years and older.

As a result, women in the latter age category are advised to meet with their healthcare provider and determine–based on their personal medical history and present health status–if they should have a mammogram; and, if so, how often.


While there is no panacea-prevention strategy for breast cancer, there are actions you can take that will lower your risk, including:

  • Pile your plate with fruits and veggies–Researchers at Harvard University found that women who ate foods with high carotenoid levels had a 19% lower risk of breast cancer than those who didn’t. Carotenoids are found in fruits and vegetables.
  • Stay as svelte as possible–An American Cancer Society study found that women who gained 21 to 30 pounds after age 18 were 40 percent more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer than women who maintained their weight. Experts hypothesize that fat-related estrogen found in overweight older women could be responsible.
  • Avoid hormone therapy–Hormone therapy used to be routinely prescribed to reduce hot flashes and other negative impacts of menopause. In recent years, however, research has uncovered risk factors associated with hormone therapy, including the development of heart disease and breast cancer. In fact, the Women’s Health Initiative found that long-term use of combined estrogen-plus-progestin therapy increased the chances of developing breast cancer by 24%.

The mere fact that you're an older adult woman puts you at risk for development of breast cancer. While we can't stop the hands of time, there are plenty of proactive steps you can take to reduce your risk and improve your health overall.