We all pretty much understand now that regular screening can tell you if you have cancer early, but now the newest research tells us that women over 75 who are seriously ill could more than likely skip the test entirely.
The findings of the study that took place seemingly show that for women who have a serious illness, there is no real benefit to having the test.
This bold statement comes from the fact that women with conditions such as heart disease or diabetes are more likely to die from those conditions before they could become seriously ill with something like breast cancer.
Dejana Braithwaite, the senior author of the study, said:
“For those 75 and over with chronic illness, the benefit of continued mammography is minimal. Women 75 to 84 are 123 times more likely to die of other causes than breast cancer”
But that does not mean that all women over the age of 75 don’t need to have a mammography, indeed they still do need one, however, it does sound a little counterintuitive that women with a serious illness don’t need one, don’t you think?
That doesn’t mean all women over 75 should forgo mammography!
“In healthy women age 75 and older, perhaps mammograms may make sense. It’s important to individualize the decision. Women should discuss with their providers the potential benefits of continuing mammography”
Braithwaite is an associate professor of epidemiology and oncology at Georgetown University’s Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Centre, in Washington, D.C.
As far as guidelines for performing a mammography goes, there is a lot of variation in the recommendations for performing the checks. The American Cancer Society advises women to stop screening at the point when they expect to live less than 10 years, great if you have a crystal ball, right?
However, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) clearly stated that there isn’t enough evidence to show that this is a wise decision, however, many European breast cancer programs stop recommending screening between 69 and 74 years.
To help make some of these decisions the investigators looked at over 200,000 women who had a mammography from 1999 to 2010, aged between 66 and 94.
They looked specifically at breast cancer and mortality rates from breast cancer and other causes for the ten year period. Over that time 7,500 approximately, were diagnosed with invasive breast cancer and about just less than 2000 had abnormal cells that are considered early signs of breast cancer.
In the same 10 years about 500 died from breast cancer and over 40,000 from other causes, so the mortality from breast cancer was 0.2 and 0.3 between the ages of 66 and 94.
This is all well and good but we think that this in no way considers that some of these women may have had treatment because of their cancer being detected and of course went through treatments like breast removal and chemotherapy!
Deana Baptiste, director of cancer screening guideline development at the American Cancer Society, said:
“[…this research] reinforces the guidelines we put out in 2015 that recommended that women should continue mammography as long as their overall health is good.”
There’s no real-time set for a cut-off age, where we stop performing mammographs, she added.
But after all this is said and done…
Baptiste also said:
“A healthy woman with at least 10 years of life expectancy should be assessed by a clinician, discuss the risks and harms, and apply personal preferences about whether screening should continue”
So are things going to be different in the future? Time will tell!
Tell us what your take on this is in the comments below.
The study was published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.