Harvard Women's Health Watch

Good news about early-stage breast cancer for older women

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Although the chance of developing breast cancer increases after age 60, the likelihood of dying from it is low.

If you're like most women, you consider the possibility of learning you have breast cancer every time you have a mammogram. But breast cancer probably doesn't seem as scary as it did when you were younger, because there has been so much good news about breast cancer in the last 20 years—improvements in mammography, advances in surgery and reconstruction, and drugs that are more effective and less toxic.

Breast cancer is still a disease of older women. Half of newly diagnosed women are over 60, and more than a fifth are over 70. Although the risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer increases with age, the chance of dying from it declines steadily. "Women who have lived to an advanced age do very well when treated for breast cancer," says Dr. Hal Burstein, senior physician and breast cancer specialist at Harvard-affiliated Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

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