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Older Women May Need More Information about Breast Cancer Screening

Mammography is considered the current gold standard in breast cancer detection, but women over 70 do not always get the screening exam. A new study finds that these women want more information about breast cancer and would like to continue to be encouraged to receive screening for the disease. The majority of women in the study believed that their risk of developing breast cancer was no longer significant.

The study, conducted in the United Kingdom, consisted of surveying 400 women aged 70 and older. About 75 of the women surveyed found that they would like more information on breast cancer. In the UK, women between the ages of 50 and 70 are advised to receive breast cancer screening every three years, but women over 70 are no longer invited to receive screening.

Because women over 70 were no longer advised to receive screening, the study found that the majority of these women assumed that they were no longer at risk of developing breast cancer.

There has been contradictory research about the benefits of screening for breast cancer in older women. In older women, other causes of death may reduce the benefit of breast cancer screening. However, as medical research advances and women are living longer, breast cancer screening can help detect the disease early in these women, when the chances of successful treatment and survival are the greatest. In the study, 75% of the women thought they would benefit from continued breast screening and would receive screenings if advised.

Sarah Woolnough of Cancer Research UK issued the following statement: “We believe that more must be done by governments, the health service and charities to ensure that older women are well informed about their risk of breast cancer, the screening programme and the treatment options available to them. We want health professionals to be more proactive in telling women that they can ask for a mammogram after they stop getting invitations and explaining the pros and cons.”

In the United States, the National Cancer Institute recommends that women begin receiving screening mammograms every one to two years at 40 years of age and every year once they reach 50 years of age. In 2009, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force issued new breast cancer screening guidelines. The guidelines recommend biennial screening mammography for women aged 50 to 74 years. The Task Force concluded that the current evidence is insufficient to assess the additional benefits and harms of screening mammography in women 75 years or older. These guidelines have been controversial in the United States. Therefore, it is important that women talk to their doctors to develop an appropriate breast cancer screening regimen based on their individual medical situations.

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