Breast Cancer in Adults Over 65

Breast Cancer in Adults Over 65

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Vivian Moore

When Vivian Moore was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 80, her MSK team tailored her treatment based on her age and overall health as well as the type of cancer she had.

Learning you have breast cancer is stressful at any age. But when you’re 65 or older, your health can be more vulnerable than it once was.

As you age, your health conditions change. You already may have health conditions that need special attention during cancer treatment. This includes diabetes and high blood pressure. You may not be able to tolerate some treatments that are harder on your body.

Your risk for getting breast cancer rises as you get older.

  • About 8 out of 10 breast cancers are found in people over age 50 who were assigned female at birth. Most are women, but people of all genders can get breast cancer. This is true even if you had top surgery. 
  • For people assigned male at birth, male breast cancer often is found around the ages of 65 to 70.

Studies have shown breast cancer screening saves lives in people ages 50 to 74. But there has not been as much research into how well they work for people over age 75. At MSK, recommendations for mammograms are based on your risk for breast cancer, not your age. It’s important to talk with your healthcare provider about screening if you are over 75. Experts at MSK’s Breast Screening Program can answer your questions about screening.

How MSK treats breast cancer in adults over 65

MSK understands the special cancer care needs of people over 65 who have been diagnosed with breast cancer. Our recommendations are always based on evidence from the latest research.

Our teams of specialists take a personal approach to cancer treatment that addresses your care goals and concerns. We offer supportive services for both your physical and emotional needs.

We felt like the whole team looked closely at my mom's individual case to determine what treatments she could tolerate," says Ms. Moore's daughter, Nicole. "They didn't make assumptions based on her age, but took a very holistic approach.
Ms. Moore's daughter, Nicole

How people 65 and older can make a breast cancer appointment at MSK

Your care experience starts with a single phone call. Our Care Advisors have special training in helping with everything you need.

When you call, a Care Advisor will ask you for some basic information. This includes things like where you live, so we can help find the MSK location nearest you. Our Care Advisors will help you with scheduling your appointment. They also can answer your questions.

Call 800-525-2225 to make an appointment. Our Care Advisors are available Monday through Friday, to (Eastern time).

What happens when I call?

We will put you in touch with the MSK healthcare providers who are the best match for you. If you’re feeling stressed or anxious about your diagnosis, our social workers can help. They’re available even before you meet with one of our doctors. They can support you before, during, and after your treatment. 

Choosing the right treatment

MSK’s Cancer and Aging team is here for you and your family.

Your treatment team includes healthcare providers with special training and experience in caring for adults over age 65. They will guide your treatment and recovery with support that meets your personal needs.

If you’re over 65 years old and were diagnosed with breast cancer, you may face special challenges. For example, you can have:

  • Other health issues, such as high blood pressure or diabetes.
  • A higher risk of drug reactions or other side effects from medications or treatments. Our bodies have different responses as we age.
  • Later-stage (advanced) disease or a more aggressive type of breast cancer. This kind of cancer grows and spreads quickly.

These health problems need special attention and care. Our medical oncologists (cancer doctors) work with our geriatric medicine experts. These are healthcare providers with special training in the care of adults over age 65. They will evaluate your needs and make personal treatment recommendations.

MSK’s medical oncologists work closely with experts in many other areas. This can include experts in radiation oncology, surgery, and plastic and reconstructive surgery. When different kinds of experts work on your cancer care, you get the best care possible.

Working together with you, your care team will make treatment plans just for you. We make our recommendations based on the latest advances in cancer care, your needs, and your goals. Your care team will focus on getting you the best possible results while keeping your quality of life.

Understanding family history of breast cancer

Your risk for breast cancer may be higher because of genetic changes (mutations or variants). You may have an inherited genetic change that was passed on from your parents. Genetic testing and counseling help you learn whether you have a mutation and what that means for your family. This genetic information can guide your treatment.

Breast cancer care close to home

You can visit MSK specialists closer to home, not just in Manhattan. We offer treatment at our regional locations in New Jersey, Westchester, and on Long Island. You can get the same outstanding care from MSK doctors at these sites:

If you’re coming into Manhattan for care, MSK offers a free shuttle for patients and caregivers among our locations. It travels between Memorial Hospital (1275 York Avenue) and a number of our Manhattan locations. Our social workers can talk with you about transportation resources if you visit our locations outside of Manhattan.

Clinical trials just for patients age 65 and older

Clinical trials are research studies that test new treatments, procedures, or devices to see how well they work. They’re an important part of helping to prevent, treat, and cure cancer. Almost every cancer treatment given to patients was first tested during a clinical trial.

MSK has one of the largest clinical trial programs for cancer in the country. This includes clinical trials just for people age 65 and older. People who join an MSK clinical trial get their treatment from a caring and experienced staff focused on patient safety.

See a complete list of MSK’s clinical trials for people age 65 and older.

Telemedicine visits

Telemedicine visits let you meet with your healthcare provider from home or wherever is most convenient for you. Many people say telemedicine visits are like being right in their doctor’s office.

Telemedicine uses video technology to connect you to your MSK care team. You can be in the comfort of your home while our healthcare providers to give you the care you need.

You can talk with them using your desktop computer, laptop, smartphone, or tablet. You will be able to see and hear them, and they will see and hear you.  

MSK offers telemedicine visits for many services, including doctor visits. This helps you get the care you need while saving travel time and money. Telemedicine is safe and secure, and meets strict standards.

If you’re interested in telemedicine appointments, your care team will work with you to schedule visits. They can also help you get ready for your telemedicine appointment, and invite others to your visit if you choose to.

Medication management

MSK’s clinical pharmacists have special training in geriatric medicine. They can evaluate your medication and make sure you’re taking them according to your doctor’s instructions.

Our pharmacists will create a plan for you to take your medications. They will choose medications that don’t get in the way of your cancer treatment and have fewer side effects. Their goal is to keep your quality of life.

Coping with side effects

Our specialists are experts in helping you manage side effects of breast cancer treatment. Our experts also use advanced tests to help us know whether you need chemotherapy.

We offer adjuvant therapies, which are treatments you have after your primary treatment, such as surgery. Adjuvant  (A-joo-vunt) therapies include chemotherapy and radiation. We offer scalp cooling to reduce hair loss during chemo. We can also help you manage nausea during chemo.

Controlling pain has always been a very important part of how we treat cancer. In fact, MSK was among the country’s first cancer center to have a service just for treating pain in people with cancer.

Your MSK care team has experts in managing the kind of pain that’s common during and after cancer treatment. We offer pain medications and other pain management methods that are matched to your pain level. Our goal is to keep you as comfortable as possible.

Mental health

A cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming. For people over 65, it can be one of many stressful things you face. Perhaps you’re managing other medical problems. Or you may be worried about your money situation in retirement. We can help you cope with changes that happen after a cancer diagnosis later in life.

Sometimes, you and your loved ones may just need someone to talk to. We offer individual and group counseling sessions, both in person and through telemedicine visits. Counseling is open to you and your family, separately or together.

We can help you face the emotional and social challenges of cancer and its treatments. You may be feeling stress, anxiety, depression, anger, or loneliness. Counseling sessions are a healthy way to learn how to cope with these emotions.  

You also may feel like no one else can understand what you’re going through. MSK’s online support groups give you a safe space to connect with other people who share this experience.

Our Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences can help whether you’re admitted to the hospital or getting care through office or clinic visits. We can also refer you to other mental health specialists at MSK or closer to home. Psychiatrists are mental health doctors who can prescribe medication as needed.

Integrative medicine

Among cancer hospitals, MSK has a long history of only offering integrative medicine therapies based on the evidence of scientific research. These therapies are proven to be safe and reliable.

Integrative medicine therapies, also called complementary therapies, are therapies and treatments that go along with your cancer care.

Without the use of prescription drugs, they can help control the symptoms and side effects of treatments. That includes chronic pain, fatigue, insomnia, nerve problems, and nausea. 

You care team will meet with you and your family at an MSK location or through a telemedicine visit. You can ask about multivitamins, herbs, and dietary supplements.

The team will create an integrative medicine plan just for you, based on your personal needs. It can include acupuncture, acupressure, mind-body medicine, massage, or other services. We also offer online group fitness and mind-body classes taught by certified coaches.

Nutrition and eating well

Cancer treatment can affect your digestion. It can change your taste, how you can eat, and how hungry you are. But it’s important to get the nutrients you need during cancer treatment. People over 65 may be at risk for deficiencies (levels that are too low) in vitamins and minerals.

MSK offers personal medical nutrition therapy to help your body get good nutrition and stay strong during treatment. Our Cancer and Aging clinical dietitian-nutritionists will answer your questions about what you can and should eat.

They can help with:

  • Planning healthy meals at home.
  • Guidance about special diets.
  • Working around food allergies.
  • Managing symptoms such as weight loss or gain, and loss of appetite.

They will give you advice about the safety and usefulness of dietary supplements.

Rehabilitation and staying active

Cancer treatment can change how well your body moves. Training with our physical, occupational, and exercise therapists can help bring your strength back.

Our Cancer and Aging Rehabilitation Program has occupational and physical therapists who are experts in treating people over 65. Their goal is to give you the same quality of life you had before cancer. Our therapists can help you keep or improve how you move as you get ready to leave the hospital.

Occupational therapists focus on the basic activities of daily living, such as getting dressed, washed, and using the bathroom. They also evaluate and treat cognitive changes in memory, attention, and vision.

Physical therapists can help you with problems with your muscles, nerves, heart, lungs, and other parts of your body. They will make a personal plan just for you, based on your goals.

Your physical therapist will help you keep or improve your strength, stamina, and how well you move. They can help reduce your pain and teach you how to move safely.

Learn more about rehabilitation programs at MSK.

Advance care planning

When you choose MSK, a team of experts care for your whole body, including your emotional and spiritual health. Our Supportive Care specialists are part of your MSK care team from your very first appointment.

Our supportive care and cancer care teams will talk with you and your family about your wishes. Advance care planning lets you and your loved ones think about important health issues that may come up in the future. The goal is to set up a plan to make sure you get the care you want.

As needed, your care team will talk with you about:

  • Choosing a health care agent
  • Your health care agent is someone you choose to make healthcare decisions for you. They’ll make these decisions if you’re not able to make them for yourself. A health care agent is also called a proxy, surrogate, or representative.
  • Filling in a Health Care Proxy form
    • A Health Care Proxy form is a legal document that names your health care agent.
  • Palliative care
    • Palliative care (also called supportive care) helps to ease your pain and other symptoms of illness. You can get palliative care anytime, including while you’re still getting treatment. Palliative care does not need to be end-of-life care and is not the same as hospice care.
  • Hospice care
    • Hospice care starts after you stop getting treatment, when you have 6 months or less to live. It provides end-of-life comfort and support.
Financial assistance

At MSK, we care about your overall health, not just your cancer diagnosis. Cancer treatment affects you physically, mentally, and emotionally. It can also affect you financially. If you’re retired or on a fixed income, you may be worried about the costs of treatment.

MSK provides financial help in different ways, depending on your needs. Our financial assistance program provides confidential financial aid for patients in need. 

You may be eligible for our financial assistance program. If so, we may pay the balance of your MSK hospital and doctor bills, after you pay what you can afford. We can lower our hospital and doctor fees. Or, you may owe nothing if you cannot afford to pay.

Our insurance counselors can answer your questions about what is covered by insurance if you’re thinking about coming to MSK for care. If you have questions about your insurance coverage, please call our Patient Billing Services team at 646-497-9176.

You may be worried about being able to pay for your prescriptions. We can guide you about the cost of prescription medications and can help you apply for assistance programs offered by drug companies and foundations. These programs help people who are having trouble paying for their prescriptions. They often cover the cost of co-pays for medications.

Help with other needs

Social workers at MSK can help you with your social and emotional needs during treatment. They also can help when you have trouble paying for basic needs, such as transportation and housing.

MSK connects people over age 65 with social workers from our Cancer and Aging Social Work Program. They have special training in the needs of older adults. You can have an individual session, either just once or ongoing visits.

Our support groups and programs are held both in person and online. You can join them to meet people going through a similar experience, or to offer advice to others.

Our Patient and Caregiver Peer Support Program connects you and your caregivers with people who have been through a similar breast cancer diagnosis. We also offer support and other resources for caregivers.

From left: Program directors Iris Zhi, MD, PhD; Diana E. Lake, MD; and Jasmeet C. Singh, MD

Advisory Committee

MSK’s program for adults over age 65 who have breast cancer age relies on a team approach. We’re honored to have an advisory committee of experts to help guide your care.

Lisa M. Sclafani, Breast Surgery

Anita Mamtani, Breast Surgery

Diana E. Lake, Breast Medicine

Jasmeet C. Singh, Breast Medicine

Iris Zhi, Breast Medicine

John J. Cuaron, Radiation Oncology

Beatriz Korc-Grodzicki, Geriatric Medicine

Koshy Alexander, Geriatric Medicine

Manpreet K. Boparai, Geriatric Medicine

Stuart Lichtman, Geriatric Medicine

Dianne Mead, Social Work

Request an Appointment

Call 646-497-9064
Available Monday through Friday, to (Eastern time)