Breast Cancer Survival Rates on the Rise – Except in Elderly Woman

Breast Cancer Survival Rates on the Rise – Except in Elderly Woman

This is a disturbing statistic in health care, especially for our elderly population

The good news is that the survival rate for women enduring breast cancer is on the rise; the bad news is that in elderly women the survival rate is lagging.

Why the discrepancy? It is hard to narrow down why this is occurring. However, a recent study suggests a few issues are contributing to this statistic.

One of the major findings in the study is that the elderly women simply are not living long enough after they begin treatment for the treatment to make a difference. For the purposes of the study, researchers labeled women 75 years and older in the group. Another powerful factor – elderly women do not seem to be treated as aggressively as younger women.

"You don't want to treat older women so aggressively that you actually cause more problems from the treatment than from the disease," said Dr. Benjamin Smith, of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, who worked on the study. He was alluding to the powerful medications sometimes used to treat breast cancer and the difficult side effects they produce.

Another factor is that the U.S. Preventative Task Force has stopped suggesting that in woman 74 years of age or older should undergo routine breast cancer screening. The task force adds that at that point in a woman’s life it should be between her and her doctor how to conduct any further screenings.

I think that this smacks of how little we value the elderly in our society. It appears to me that researchers and scientists feel that at age 74 a woman has outlived her usefulness and now what happens, happens. Why waste health care dollars on a woman who may not live long enough to even get the results of a breast cancer screening test, let alone any treatment if she is found to have cancer.

Dr. Mara Schonberg, who has studied breast cancer in older women at Harvard Medical School in Boston, feels the new study "does suggest there are probably some women who would benefit from more aggressive treatment" -- but not all, said Schonberg, who wasn't involved in the new research.

I find this study very disturbing in terms of caring for the elderly in our society. Even if they are covered by insurance and can afford treatment, that treatment is not finding its way to them.