Regular mammograms for women 75 and older detects cancer in earlier stages, according to a new study led by Dr. Judith Malmgren, affiliate assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of Washington School of Public Health.
[Photo: Photo: Dr. Judith Malmgren]
The study, published in the journal Radiology, found that mammography-detected breast cancer in older women was associated with a shift to earlier stage diagnosis. That, in turn, reduces the rate of more advanced, difficult-to-treat cases, the study found.
The medical community has conflicting views on mammography for older women. The American Cancer Society recommends annual mammograms as long as older women are in good health, while the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force does not recommend them, citing a lack of evidence.
“There are no studies on women age 75 and older, despite the fact that they are at the highest risk for breast cancer,” Dr. Malmgren said. Dr. Malmgren and her research partner, Dr. Henry Kaplan, from the Swedish Cancer Institute in Seattle, studied data from an institutional registry that includes more than 14,000 breast cancer cases with 1,600 patients over the age of 75.
“Mammography enables detection when breast cancer is at an early stage and is easier to treat with more tolerable options,” Dr. Malmgren said. “In this study, older women with mammography-detected invasive cancer had a 10 percent reduction in breast cancer disease-specific mortality after five years.”
The early detection provided by mammography is important in older women, Dr. Malmgren noted, because they cannot easily tolerate the chemotherapy that is commonly used to treat more advanced breast cancers.