Until now, women 75 and over were not encouraged to get routine mammograms to screen for breast cancer. That may now change.
According to data presented Monday at the Radiological Society of North America’s annual conference, screenings after 75 should occur based on a woman’s personal choice, her health, and other illnesses she might be facing, not based on age.
That finding is based on the cancer detection rates observed in the 5.6 million mammographies the researchers looked at as part of the National Mammography Database.
Prior to this research, the prevailing guidelines were for women between age 50 and 74 to get a mammogram once every two years, according to the 2016 U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. For anyone 75 or over, the USPSTF had said, there was insufficient evidence to assess the benefits and harm that might occur through mammograms.
The new study may change that view.
“The continuing increase of cancer detection rate and positive predictive values in women between the ages of 75 and 90 does not provide evidence for age-based mammography cessation,” Dr. Cindy Lee, a professor at UC-San Francisco and co-author of the research.
Mammograms — which use X-Ray imaging to get a better look at breast tissue — have been controversial over the years, particularly over the question of whether or not they save people’s lives. And along the way, there have been a number of technological advances that have tried to make mammograms more effective at identifying tumors that could be a problem.
A study published in October in the New England Journal of Medicine evaluated the drop in breast cancer mortality and the impact of new treatments versus early screenings. It found in some cases women were being overdiagnosed with tumors that wouldn’t necessarily pose a threat to their health. In the end, the study said, “The potential of screening to lower breast cancer mortality is reflected in the declining incidence of larger tumors. However, with respect to only these large tumors, the decline in the size-specific case fatality rate suggests that improved treatment was responsible for at least two thirds of the reduction in breast cancer mortality.”
old: A study published in October in the New England Journal of Medicine found that women were being overdiagnosed with tumors that wouldn’t necessarily pose a threat to their health. In the end, the study found that new treatments accounted for two-thirds of the drop in breast cancer mortality, while screening fell in the other third.
For that reason, it’s important to keep in mind that mammograms are just one part of breast cancer prevention. “We should stop focusing so much on screening and the idea that we just need to get a better [method], and start helping women understand that screening is not the main thing they can do to reduce their risk of breast cancer,” Dr. Russell Harris, a public health professor the University of North Carolina told Stat News in October.
Other ways to reduce the risk of breast cancer include maintaining a healthy weight, exercising, not smoking, and limiting alcohol consumption.