Psychological effects of breast cancer on seniors

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While we often see breast cancer ads plastered with middle-aged females and hear stories of young mothers who were taken from their children too soon by this illness, it actually affects senior aged women over the age of 70 more than anyone else. The median age of being diagnosed with breast cancer is actually 62 years old. Regardless of how old a woman is when she’s told a terminal illness is trying to invade her body, she will have a fight on her hands, and it might not just be for her physical health.

Mental Health Woes

Mental illness impacts people who suffer from cancer quite often. While depression is often expected, the illness frequently brings with it a slew of other conditions, like Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. These conditions cannot be treated in the oncology ward. Instead, cancer patients must reach out to yet another doctor at a time in their lives when they would probably like to never see another doctor again.


When it comes to cancer, there are a lot of decisions to make. Which treatment is the best approach? What if you make the wrong call and it costs you your life? What will happen to your family if you don’t survive this? Fortunately, breast cancer may affect over 300,000 women each year, but 98 percent will go on to reach remission.


For women of advanced age, some people might think that being hit with a breast cancer diagnosis later in life is somehow better in comparison to being younger. This is true if you’re looking at the issue from one side of the spectrum. Switch sides a minute and picture the 65-year old woman who has reached a point in her life when it seems like the worst must be behind her. Then the diagnosis comes. The body is older at this stage in the game. The immune system isn’t as strong. The hormones aren’t there to support that immune system. She has lived her entire life being a caretaker of others, raising children and supporting her partner only to find herself feeling very weak at a point in her life when she thought she could conquer all. A quarter of all women with breast cancer experience depression and it’s not hard to see why. Furthermore, those who have dealt with depression before the diagnosis are deemed less likely to survive breast cancer. This isn’t a very good outlook to paint for women.


Contrary to popular belief, PTSD effects women with breast cancer more than any other comorbid psychiatric illness. An astounding 80 percent of breast cancer sufferers will struggle with symptoms of PTSD, like flashbacks, nightmares, panic attacks, and intense emotional and physical distress. Overcoming these issues often requires a complex combination of medications and therapy, as well as changing up lifestyle factors like diet and spiritual practices. Getting through it and bouncing back from breast cancer involves far more than beating the disease.

Cite this page: Danielle Bosley, "Psychological effects of breast cancer on seniors," in, January 30, 2017, (accessed September 29, 2022).