A recent Dutch study asserts that including women ages 70 and over in a national breast cancer screening program does not lead to a large decline in advanced cases, it may however have certain consequences.
In 1998 the upper age limit for getting screened was extended to from 69 to 75 in the Netherlands. This extension allowed researchers from the Leiden University Medical Centre to observe the impact on diagnoses of late-stage cancer in this upper age group.
The study tracked 25,414 new cases of breast cancer diagnosed among Dutch women in that age range from 1995 to 2011.
The study found that new cases of early-stage breast cancer among 7075 year olds rose sharply after national screening was introduced, from 248.7 to 362.9 per 100,000 women.
The study also found that although there was a drop in the numbers of new cases of advanced breast cancer, the overall decrease was small. It dropped from 58.6 to 51.8 cases per 100,000 women, after the national screening program was introduced.
Researchers calculated that there were about 20 extra early stage cancer picked up, therefore the 70-75 age population was over-diagnosed.
A smaller group of women aged 76 to 80 showed in the study that new cases of early stage disease fell slightly, but the numbers of new cases of advanced breast cancer did not change significantly.
The U.S. currently recommends that all women 50 year old and older get screened for breast cancer with mammograms either every year or every 2 years. The recommendation varies based on every individual woman’s risk of breast cancer.
Some groups do recommend starting earlier at 40 years old, but the majority recommends 50.
Recommendations on when to stop also vary. The American Cancer Society says to continue mammograms as long as the woman is healthy while the U.S. Preventive Services Task Forces says that there is no proof that women over the age of 75 should continue to get mammograms.
The authors of the new study believe that no changes in recommendations should be done regarding mammograms until more studies are done on women over the age of 70. However they do remind the public to be aware that the risk for breast cancer does not vanish after a certain age.