Treat the Woman, Not Her Age: Older Women and Breast Cancer

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Breast Cancer Treatment in Women Over 65

Women age 65 years or older constitute half of new breast cancer patients each year, and the number of older women with breast cancer is forecast to double by 2030 as the baby boomers age. Yet despite their increasingly large numbers, older women who develop breast cancer often fail to receive the same care as offered to younger women according to Jeanne Mandelblatt, M.D., of Georgetown University's Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center.

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In an editorial entitled "Treating Breast Cancer: The Age Old Dilemma of Old Age" which appears in the September 20, 2006, issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology, she calls on doctors treating breast cancer in older women to look beyond the year in which a woman was born and to take into account her overall health, frailty and ability to tolerate various cancer treatment.

"Older women who perceive more ageism in their interaction with providers are less likely to receive radiation or chemotherapy," Mandelblatt wrote.

Women want their physicians to consider their disease, not their birthdays. "In our work with older women, we found that 33 percent would choose chemotherapy if it would extend their lives by 12 or more months," she said.

Older women in good health may do better than younger women in poorer health.

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