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Mammograms and Older Women: Is It Safe to Stop?

Mammograms and Older Women: Is It Safe to Stop?

Breast cancer is the most common cancer diagnosis in American women, with an estimated one in eight women developing breast cancer in her lifetime. It’s also the second leading cause of death in women, next to lung cancer. Those are some harsh statistics. However, if detected early, chances of survival are high. For example, women with stage 1 breast cancer have a 98-100 percent 5-year survival rate.

We say it about so many things, and it’s true in this case as well; prevention and detection are key! Routine mammogram screenings are essential to early detection. But what’s the age limit on getting mammograms? Is there a benefit to older women continuing to get regular mammograms? Simply put, yes, there’s a benefit, and it could be life-saving. Read on to find out why there’s no upper age limit when it comes to mammogram screenings.

Breast Cancer Screening Guidelines

For years, guidelines surrounding mammograms for women have been a source of debate. Most guidelines tend to agree that starting around the age of 40, women should begin receiving regular mammograms and screenings. This is mainly because women under the age of 40 are less likely to get breast cancer. However, that doesn’t mean someone younger can’t be diagnosed. It can and does happen. But statistics show that only 4 percent of women diagnosed with breast cancer in the U.S. are younger than 40, and many factors, including family history, play a role in those cases.

Some guidelines suggest that women 55 and older can switch to only getting a mammogram every two years if desired. And then, women over the age of 75 can forgo screenings altogether. This is where we need to take a closer look and interject.

Believe it or not, the median age for women being diagnosed with breast cancer is 63. That means about half of women with breast cancer are diagnosed before age 63, and about half are diagnosed after age 63. In fact, almost 20 percent of all breast cancer diagnoses in the U.S. are in women over the age of 80.

Breast Cancer Risk Factors Not to Be Ignored

Age alone is a significant risk factor for breast cancer. It sounds scary, but the older you are, the greater your risk of getting breast cancer. Rates begin to increase after age 40 and are highest in women over age 70.

Cancer occurs when cells become abnormal. And, with age, it’s more likely for your cells to change and become abnormal, putting you at a higher risk of developing cancer.

Women with dense breasts, meaning they have more connective tissue than fatty tissue, are also at an increased risk of getting breast cancer. Dense breast tissue can make it difficult to see tumors on a mammogram and hard to feel potential lumps. If you’re not getting regular screenings, your cancer could go undetected for years.

A personal and family history of breast and ovarian cancer is a risk factor that, no matter your age, you should always be mindful of. This is because a family or personal history increases your chances of developing breast cancer. And if you’ve already had breast cancer, you’re more likely to get it a second time.

mammogram reminder

Mammography Benefits (Even For Older Women)

A mammogram is the single most effective tool to detect breast cancer early. That doesn’t change with age. Mammograms can show changes to the breast up to a year before you or your physician can feel it. And just as your risk of developing breast cancer increases with age, so do your mammography screening benefits.

Older women actually get the most overall benefit from receiving a mammogram. Compared to women who did not receive mammograms, women age 50-59 who got mammograms had a 14 percent lower risk of dying from the breast cancer, and women age 60-69 had a 33 percent lower risk of dying.

New studies and research are now suggesting that a woman’s health status, not her age, should be the determining factor on whether she continues getting regular mammograms. Think about it, if you’re 75 and in great health, you could potentially live another 10 plus years. So, it’s vital to catch the disease early for a complete and successful recovery, and a mammogram will help you do just that.

A study of more than 12,000 women 80 or older found that of the women diagnosed with breast cancer, those who had regular mammograms were more likely to be diagnosed with early-stage cancer. Those women were also more likely to be living five years after being diagnosed compared to the women who didn’t get regular mammograms.

Continue to Protect Yourself With A Mammogram

Unfortunately, despite the benefits of regular mammograms in older women, most women cease getting the screenings as they age. If you’re older and haven’t been getting your annual mammograms, think twice about your decision and why. Breast cancer does occur in older women, but it can also be treated effectively.

No matter how old you are, mammograms, along with regular self-exams and breast exams by your doctor, can diagnose breast cancer early, when it’s most treatable. You should always take whatever steps possible to stay as healthy as possible.

To schedule a mammogram or to discuss your breast health and potential risks, contact a VIPcare provider near you. Early detection is the key to living a happy and cancer-free life.