A Look at Breast Cancer Screening in Older Women

Senior woman at doctor's office.

Doctors agree that regular breast cancer screenings are important for women in a certain age group, but what happens when women get older? Do regular screenings help to save lives, or do they actually have negative consequences? Evidence suggests that some women should discuss the idea of halting screenings with their physicians. What is the right answer for you? Here’s what you need to know.

Breast Cancer Screening Guidelines

In the United States, most breast cancer screening guidelines say that women should begin mammograms at age 50. There is disagreement over whether these screenings should be repeated annually or every two years. There is also disagreement about whether women should start screenings earlier, at age 40. When it comes to mammograms later in life, the American Cancer Society says women should continue having screenings for as long as they are healthy, while the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force says there isn’t enough evidence to suggest that women should continue having mammograms after age 75. 

Older Women and Screening Risks

The reason experts are concerned about breast cancer screenings in older women is the risk of over-diagnosis and treatment. Because older women are more vulnerable to the side effects of cancer treatment than younger women, treating very early stage breast cancer can actually do more harm than good. In a Dutch study into breast cancer screenings in elderly women, early-stage cancer diagnoses rose significantly while the diagnosis of late-stage cancer experienced only a small decline. This kind of over-diagnosis could interfere with quality of life for older women.

Patient Recommendations

For now, breast cancer screening guidelines are highly personalized. Work with your physician to make a screening plan based on your medical history and risk factors. Your physician can help you balance screening risks and benefits to give you the best breast cancer protection.

Sunrise Hospital & Medical Center’s Breast Center offers screening tests for women of all ages. Our Las Vegas hospital boasts a comprehensive range of health care services, including stroke care, an emergency room, and a heart hospital. For a physician referral or more information, call (702) 233-5300. 

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