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Best Breast-Cancer Care Eludes Older Women
Date:10/21/2007

Research highlights need to individualize treatment,,,,

SUNDAY, Oct. 21 (HealthDay News) -- As women live longer lives, the number of breast cancer cases among older patients is rising, too.

Yet many older women are being under-diagnosed and under-treated for the disease, studies show. Often, age -- rather than health status -- is the deciding factor in determining how to care for the 80-and-older set.

"I think that the biggest problem to this point has been physicians' and patients' attitudes toward treatments," said Dr. David A. Litvak, a general surgeon and surgical oncologist for the Permanente Medical Group in Southern California.

Patients, on one hand, often have misconceptions about what the treatment involves. "They think it's going to be too disruptive to their daily lives," Litvak said. On the other hand, a lot of physicians have biases about treating anyone over 80, he added. Their thinking is, "How much time could they possibly have left?" As a result, many doctors assume a "leave-them-alone sort of attitude," he said.

Litvak led a study examining the medical records of 354 women, 70 and older, who were diagnosed with breast cancer at a community hospital in Michigan between 1992 and 2002. The study was published recently in the Archives of Surgery.

In all, 46 percent of the women had breast cancer that doctors could detect during a physical examination. Even though 72 percent of the women had mammograms, those tests were given mainly to verify the physical exams.

Seventy percent of the women were diagnosed when their cancer was in the early stages. But 36 of the women overall, and 56 percent of those 80 and older, were never closely evaluated to see whether the cancer had spread to their lymph nodes.

The study also revealed lapses in treatment. About half of the women had breast-conserving surgery, but fewer than expected received chemotherapy, radia
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