Brenda Lyle – FLORIDA TODAY
Q: At what age should I stop getting mammograms?
A: I have never met a woman who looks forward to her annual mammogram.
While aging may bring a welcome end to some things for women, the risk of breast cancer is not one of them.
The median age of a breast cancer diagnosis is 62 and nearly 20 percent of women diagnosed are over the age of 75, according to the Surveillance Epidemiology and End Results registry.
Yet the answer on how and when to screen and treat elderly women for breast cancer remains, “it depends.”
A mammogram is an X-ray image of the breast, used by doctors to spot signs of breast cancer. They remain the gold standard for early detection, sometimes identifying tumors up to three years before they can be felt.
If a woman has no history of breast cancer, the current guidelines recommend a mammogram every 1-2 years beginning between the ages of 40-50.
At age 75, the decision to continue with mammograms becomes a discussion between the woman and her healthcare provider.
Data from 2021 from the Breast Cancer Research Foundation notes that 8o% of breast cancer diagnoses are “ER positive.”
That means that the cancer growth is related to the hormone, estrogen. The estrogen in a woman’s body seems to raise breast cancer risk by encouraging the growth of breast tissue, which can speed up the growth of an existing tumor.
The length of “exposure” to estrogen plays a role. According to the National Menopause Association, “Women who go through menopause later than age 55 and those who take hormone replacement therapy to ease menopause symptoms may be at an increased risk of breast cancer.”
Treating breast cancer in older women can be complicated.
Some treatments may cause side effects that are difficult for older patients to tolerate. Other health conditions can be present. And access to treatment itself can be influenced by socio-economic factors, or be an issue for older women who are caregivers.
In 2021, the Journal of the American Medical Association Oncology published new guidelines on surveillance mammography for breast cancer survivors over 75.
It stresses an individualized approach that factors in the risks/benefits of continuing mammograms, the individual’s overall health status and life expectancy.
So, when should you stop getting mammograms?
Age alone cannot be a deciding factor in whether or not women seek screening or treatment for breast cancer.
Talk to your doctor about the benefits of mammography and call One Senior Place at 321-751-6771 to find breast cancer resources in your area.
One Senior Place is a marketplace for resources and provider of information, advice, care and on-site services for seniors and their families. Questions for this column are answered by professionals in nursing, social work, care management and in-home care. Send questions to AskOSP@OneSeniorPlace.com, call 321-751-6771 or visit One Senior Place, The Experts in Aging.
Brenda Lyle is a Certified Care Manager and Certified Dementia Practitioner with One Senior Place, Greater Orlando.