Many women seek excuses to skip mammography exams and understandably so: They can be uncomfortable, anxiety-provoking, time-consuming and sometimes costly. The fact remains, however, that unless you have undergone mastectomies or are in extremely poor health (i.e., life expectancy of less than eight years), then screening mammography is indeed valued and recommended.
Mammograms may not be perfect, but they remain the best method for detecting early, curable breast cancer. Elderly women benefit particularly as cancers, more prevalent with age, may be simply treated when detected early on a mammogram.
Studies demonstrate women aged 80 or older benefit from regular mammograms, but only 20 percent of these women are receiving regular mammograms. Yet more than 20 percent of breast cancer diagnoses are in women older than 80.
One study of more than 12,000 women aged 80 or older bore this out with striking findings. Among those in the study who were diagnosed with breast cancer, women who had been undergoing regular mammograms – at least three in the five years before being diagnosed – were more likely to be diagnosed with early stage I disease (68 percent) and less likely to be diagnosed with later stage disease (32 percent). The cancer diagnoses in those who did not receive mammograms were more likely to be in later stages. Overall, the study found a 43 percent reduction in the risk of metastatic breast cancer in older women screened with mammograms.
Another analyzed the National Mammography Database of more than 5.6 million mammograms. Researchers found there is an increased cancer detection rate with decreased recall rate in women between the ages of 75 and 90, validating continued mammography screening into one’s elderly years. Treatments for elderly women with early stage breast cancers may require only anti-estrogen pills.
The decision to stop breast cancer age-based screening should depend on an individual’s personal health status, history, and preferences. Screening should not be discontinued because a woman feels she no longer needs it, transportation is difficult, or other health problems are more important. If your elderly mother, aunt, or grandmother thinks she has earned the right to skip it – and she may have – let her know that it would be much, much better to find an early treatable problem than to wait until it hurts her. Help by taking her to the appointment and spending some valuable time together.
Here’s where Mammosphere can help: Mammography exams are more accurate and effective when interpreted with prior comparison mammograms. Comparison with two or more prior mammograms resulted in a significant reduction in recall exams and increased detection of cancer relative to comparison with a single prior mammogram. Therefore, as one ages, moves, downsizes, and consolidates, keeping track of prior exams for one’s own health is ever more important. Mammosphere provides that electronic storage and access to essential prior exams for the most accurate exam interpretation.