Screening mammograms for elderly women encouraged

Women at age 70 have a life expectancy of 15.9 years, according to statistics compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). As the population ages, the risk for developing breast cancer increases. A review of mammography outcomes among elderly women shows that breast cancer screening for this population should be encouraged, according to a presentation at the 2007 San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium.

"We believe that the continuation of annual screening mammography beyond the age of 70 years will identify clinically occult and earlier-stage cancers that can be successfully treated and possibly prolong survival," said Dr. A. Jill Leibman, an associate professor of clinical radiology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University in New York City.

Leibman's group reviewed the medical records of breast cancer patients 70 years or older who presented to the institution over an eight-year period (1999-2007). During that time, 37 patients (average age of 73.4 years) presented with 41 cancers. Seventy-one percent of these cancers (average tumor size of 1.4 cm) were identified on screening mammography, while 29% were seen on diagnostic mammography (average tumor size of 3.6 cm).

The average time between the suspicious mammogram and the previous mammogram was 1.2 years for the patients in the study, she said. The mammographic findings identified a suspicious mass in five cases (12% of patients), calcification in 21 cases (51%), and a combination of both in 15 cases (37%).

Those cancers included 11 instances of ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), 28 infiltrating duct cancers, and two invasive lobular cancers. The women underwent 21 lumpectomies and 14 mastectomies. The cancer was not treated in six cases. The average tumor size on pathology was 2.0 cm.

In the DCIS patients, 64% had a previous mammogram done with an average time interval of 1.5 years. In eight of the 11 patients (73%), diagnosis was made on screening mammogram.

"The value of screening mammography in this population is debated. Our results suggest that screening mammography is beneficial in diagnosing cancers in this population. Screening mammography should continue to be requested in the elderly," Leibman stated.

She also noted that the American Cancer Society has recently revised its recommendations, stating that women should continue screening mammography as long as they are in good health.

By Edward Susman contributing writer
January 16, 2008

Related Reading

Florida insurer requires preauthorization for digital mammo, December 11, 2007

Older breast cancer patients denied treatment based on age, October 17, 2006

How old is too old for a mammogram? October 6, 2006

75 years is an appropriate upper age limit for mammography, July 1, 2006

Lack of screening for older women may skew breast cancer data, April 25, 2005

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