Elderly Women Benefit from Screening Mammography

Regular mammograms among women 80 years of age and older may detect earlier stages of breast cancer. These findings were released in an early online publication of the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

Breast cancer rates among women age 70 and older account for approximately 40% of all breast cancers. Breast cancers found in elderly women are often as aggressive as those seen among younger patients. Unfortunately, long-term control disease is often difficult in older patients. Currently, the National Cancer Institute recommends that women 50 years and older receive mammograms every one to two years.

In the current study, researchers sought to evaluate screening mammography guidelines for women age 80 years and older. The goal of the study was to determine at what stage mammography tended to detect breast cancer in this patient population as well as the survival of women diagnosed with breast cancer in this age group.

Researchers examined the records from a U.S. Medicare database to evaluate 12,538 women, age 80 and older, who were diagnosed with breast cancer between 1996 and 2002. Patients were categorized according to the number of mammograms received during the five-year period before being diagnosed with breast cancer. Each patient was assigned to one of the following categories: non–users, 0 mammograms (49%); irregular users, 1-2 mammograms (29%); and regular users, 3 or more mammograms (22%).

  • With each mammogram obtained, women became increasingly (0.37 times) less likely to be diagnosed with late-stage breast cancer. For women who were regular users of mammograms, this could represent a 90% reduction in the likeliness of being diagnosed with late-stage breast cancer.
  • Survival associated with factors other than breast cancer was also better among frequent mammogram users, indicating that healthier patients may more frequently use mammography.

Researchers concluded that regular mammography among women age 80 years and older was associated with detection of earlier stages of breast cancer, although improvement in overall survival was not evident. Healthcare providers may wish to discuss the potential benefits of screening mammography with their elderly patients.

Reference: Badgwell, B., Giordano, S., Zhigang, D., et al. Mammography before diagnosis among women age 80 years and older with breast cancer. Journal of Clinical Oncology [early online publication]. doi:10.1200/JCO.2007.12.8058. 2008

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