Many elderly women may believe they are out of the woods so to speak when it comes to breast cancer. They may stop getting breast exams or mammograms in their 70s or even earlier. Did you know your risk of breast cancer increases with age? Until around the age of 80 there is a slight steady increase in the risk each year.
How do you decide when to stop getting mammograms? The best way to decide is to first determine what your life expectancy is. Knowing how long your parents lived and some facts about your own health will give you an idea. If your parents lived well into their 80s or 90s, you can expect to live that long too. Of course, your health must be factored into the decision. For example, if you have multiple health problems that require many health care provider visits, medication changes and hospitalizations, your life expectancy will be shortened. This is not as clear cut and should be discussed with your primary health provider, who can give you a better idea about your life expectancy.
Let’s say you are 75 years old and your parents lived long lives and your health is good. You can expect to live another 10 or possibly 20 years. In that case, it is worthwhile to continue mammograms. It is better to find a breast cancer early through regular mammograms rather than later. No woman wants to deal with a breast cancer diagnosis. But if found early a breast cancer is much easier to treat. At 75, you may not handle the treatments as well as a younger woman.
Other factors to consider are your risk. Here are the leading risk factors other than advancing age:
- Close relative with breast cancer
- Excessive alcohol intake
- Dense breast tissue
- History of benign breast lesions
- Physical inactivity
- Use of menopausal hormones
- No history of breastfeeding
- First pregnancy after the age of 30
If you do not have any of the factors listed above, your risk is average. Over the age of 55, you do not need an annual mammogram or provider breast exam. Every two years may be enough for you according to the American Cancer Society Guidelines. But, if you have at least one of the risk factors, you should be getting annual exams and mammograms.
There is good news about breast cancer. Since 1989 the death rate has decreased. A total of 322,600 breast cancer deaths averted through 2015. The reason for fewer deaths is early detection and improved treatments. Don’t stop the exams just because you are in your 70s, or even 80s for that matter. Consider your health, your risk factors and your life expectancy before you decide to stop breast cancer screening.
Breast Cancer Statistics. American Cancer Society. 2019. https://cancerstatisticscenter.cancer.org/?_ga=2.18347641.1330564372.1570544562-239659292.1570544562#!/cancer-site/Breast
Breast Cancer Facts and Figures 2017-2019. American Cancer Society. 2019. https://www.cancer.org/content/dam/cancer-org/research/cancer-facts-and-statistics/breast-cancer-facts-and-figures/breast-cancer-facts-and-figures-2017-2018.pdf