November 29, 2016 1:18 pm

Think you’re too old for a mammogram? Keep screening even in your 70s: study

When women think of breast cancer, a lump is often the telltale symptom that comes to mind. But are you aware of other warning signs?


Women in their 70s may think they’re too old to worry about mammograms and breast cancer, but new research suggests there shouldn’t be an age cut off. It’s worthwhile to keep screening up until age 90, American scientists say.

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After poring over data from nearly six million mammograms, doctors out of the University of California in San Francisco say that older women benefit from breast cancer screening. Keep in mind, people are living longer now and age is a major factor in measuring breast cancer risk.

“There has been a lot of controversy, debate and conversation regarding the different breast cancer screening guidelines, even among major national organizations, over the past few years,” Dr. Cindy Lee, the study’s lead author, said.

“We know that the risk of breast cancer increases with age. With the uncertainty and controversy about what age to stop breast cancer screening, we want to address this gap in knowledge using a large national database,” Lee said.

READ MORE: These are the other breast cancer symptoms you should be aware of

She said previous studies excluded women over age 75, limiting data. This time around, she looked at six million mammograms that were done over a seven-year period between January 2008 and December 2014 across 31 U.S. states.

The women were sorted into categories based on their results:

  • Those who were recalled for more testing.
  • Those who moved onto biopsy referrals.
  • Those who detected cancer from biopsies.
  • Cancer detection rate.

About four cancers were found for every 1,000 women who were screened, recall rates sat at 10 per cent and biopsies sat at 20 to 29 per cent. There was a “gradual upward trend” for detecting cancer based on increasing age.

READ MORE: This lesser known breast cancer warning sign helped save British woman’s life

Lee said this is the largest study on age and breast cancer screening. She concludes in her study that “there is no clear cut-off point” when it comes to conducting mammograms.

Right now, there is plenty of advice on when to start screening but there is no consensus on when to stop.

The Canadian Cancer Society’s mammography guidelines call for mammograms every two years between ages 50 and 69.

For age 70 and older, the national authority suggests women talk to their doctors about how often they should have a mammogram.

READ MORE: New Canadian guidelines for doctors, young women with breast cancer

“Research has shown that women who have mammograms regularly are less likely to have a false positive – when the test results suggest cancer when none is present. We also know that if you do have cancer, it is more likely to be detected when you have mammograms regularly,” the website reads.

Meanwhile in Australia, routine screening is between the ages of 50 and 74. The U.K. is similar to Canada – cut-off is at about 70 years old.

READ MORE: What one non-smoking young mom diagnosed with lung cancer wants Canadians to know

The Canadian Cancer Society estimates that 25,700 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in 2016. It’s the most common cancer among Canadian women, excluding skin cancers.

Lee presented her full findings Monday at the Radiological Society of North America.

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