Women Older Than 75 Get Benefits from Mammograms

Written by Chronicle Staff. Posted in Uncategorized

Published on October 06, 2016 with No Comments

Breast cancer screening in older women has been a much discussed topic in the past few years. In 2009, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommended that mammograms shouldn’t be encouraged in women ages 75 and older because they might not benefit from the screenings. The USPSTF made this recommendation because no research had shown that these women would benefit from regular mammograms. The USPSTF also recommended that breast cancer screening should start at age 50 instead of 40 and that mammograms should be done every other year instead of every year.

Several medical organizations and advocacy groups, including the American Cancer Society and Breastcancer.org, didn’t agree with the USPSTF conclusions and ignored the recommendations. The recommendations were very controversial and were not widely adopted by doctors.

A study has found that mammography finds breast cancer at earlier stages in older women. Early-stage breast cancer is usually easier to treat than advanced-stage cancer. The study also found that because breast cancers were detected at earlier stages, the number of more advanced-stage cancer went down in older women.

The study was published online on Aug. 5, 2014 by the journal Radiology. Read the abstract of

Because the USPSTF recommendations caused so much controversy, the researchers wanted to see if older women actually got benefits from regular screening mammograms.

In the study, the researchers looked at the records of 1,162 women aged 75 and older who were diagnosed with breast cancer from 1990 to 2011.

During those years, breast cancers detected by mammography increased compared to breast cancers found by the women or their doctors. From 1990 to 1994:

  • 49% of cancers were found by mammography
  • 50% were found by women or doctors

From 2010 to 2011:

  • 70% of cancers were found by mammography
  • 30% were found by women or doctors

Breast cancers found by mammography were more likely to be earlier-stage cancers:

  • 62% of cancers found by mammography were stage I
  • 59% of cancers found by women or doctors were stage II or stage III

The researchers also found that the number of later-stage cancers went down and the number of earlier-stage cancers went up during the study years. From 1990 to 2011:

  • the number of stage II cancers went down by 8%
  • the number of stage III cancers went down by 8%
  • the number of stage 0 cancers (DCIS) went up by 15%

Compared to women diagnosed with breast cancer that was found by them or their doctors, women diagnosed with breast cancer that was detected by mammography were more likely to be treated with lumpectomy and radiation rather than mastectomy. Women with mammography-detected breast cancer also were less likely to have chemotherapy.

Women diagnosed with breast cancer that was found by mammography were more likely to be alive 5 years after diagnosis than women with patient- or doctor-detected breast cancer:

  • 97% of women with mammography-detected cancer were alive 5 years after diagnosis
  • 87% of women with patient- or doctor-detected cancer were alive 5 years after diagnosis

“Longer life expectancy for women increases the importance of early detection,” said Dr. Judith Malmgren, affiliate assistant professor at the University of Washington’s School of Public Health and Community Medicine, one of the researchers who did the study. “A 75-year-old woman today has a 13-year life expectancy. You only need 5 years of life expectancy to make mammography screening worthwhile.”

Nearly all experts would agree that annual screening doesn’t make sense for an older woman who wouldn’t want to be treated for breast cancer because of personal preferences or other health issues. Still, many women age 75 and older are in reasonably good health and would want to be treated should they be diagnosed with breast cancer.

Breastcancer.org believes that the importance of diagnosing breast cancer early, when it’s most treatable, doesn’t get any less important as a woman gets older. Regular screening mammograms make sense for any woman age 75 and older who would want to be treated for breast cancer should she be diagnosed.

For more information on mammograms and other tests to detect breast cancer, visit the

A 3D Mammogram

How is my exam different?

A 3D mammogram exam is very similar to a traditional mammogram.  Today, a new technology called breast tomosynthesis – or 3D mammography - will help doctors find very small cancers and rule out “false positives” – reducing the number of women who are called back for diagnostic mammograms.

Just as with a digital mammogram, the technologist will position and compress your breast under a paddle and take images from different angles.  A 3D mammogram exam may be used as a screening tool in conjunction with a traditional digital mammogram or may be used by itself for a diagnostic mammogram.

Breast tomosynthesis allows doctors to examine breast tissue one layer at a time. It may be used in conjunction with traditional digital mammography as part of your annual screening mammogram to capture more breast images.  Very low X-ray energy is used during the screening examination so your radiation exposure is safely below the American College of Radiology (ACR) guidelines.

The whole procedure time should be approximately the same as that of a digital mammogram.  The technologist sends your breast images electronically to the radiologist, who studies them and reports results to either your physician or directly to you.

Doctors agree that early detection is the best defense against breast cancer.  If we find cancer in its earliest stages, the chances of surviving it are good.

For more information about St. Mary Medical Center or to schedule an appointment, call 219-942-0551 or, visit www.comhs.org/stmary.

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