October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and public education is a major part of the national support campaign. Did you know one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetimes? In addition, two-thirds of women with invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed after age 55? This puts older women at an elevated risk of the disease, especially if they have certain identifiable genetic factors, such as family history.

Men can also contract breast cancer, though research tells us that women are one hundred times more likely. According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, an estimated 268,600 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed among American women in 2019, as well as 62,930 new cases of non-invasive breast cancer. An estimated 41,760 women will die.

Early detection and access to support services is the best known defense, though exact causes of the disease are still largely unknown. When breast cancer is detected early and the cancer is in a “localized” stage, there can be a 5-year survival rate of 100 percent. Monthly breast exams, regularly scheduled clinical breast exams, and mammograms should be the foundation of any early detection plan.

Another area for adult children of at-risk parents to consider is estate planning.

Creating or updating an estate plan is wise at any stage of life, but aging adults should take care to legally define their legacy wishes before facing a serious health issue. Adult children can nudge the process, and also be directly involved in their parent’s health care-related affairs. 

For example, a health care advance directive could allow the older parent to designate an adult child to make important health care decisions on his or her behalf. Further, a durability provision in the parent’s durable power of attorney would allow the adult child, who is acting as the agent, to make decisions if the parent is too sick to competently direct his or her own care.

If you have an aging parent who is struggling with breast cancer, Breast Cancer Awareness Month provides a wide-range of support resources and opportunities to receive help.

We encourage you not to wait to contact an experienced estate planning attorney for assistance preparing important health care estate documents as a part of comprehensive estate plan.