By: Dr. Angela Sie,
Breast cancer is the leading form of cancer in women, and in rare cases, can also occur in men. The risk for getting breast cancer increases with age, according to the National Cancer Institute, with women 70 and older having a one in 24 chance of developing breast cancer at some point.
To ensure you are living your healthiest life and don’t have breast cancer, it’s best to schedule annual mammograms. Mammograms should have started at 40, but if you are older than 40 and still haven’t gotten a mammogram, please make your appointment as soon as possible.
Skipping just one mammogram could take you from a treatable and often curable early-stage breast cancer to a later stage, which is more taxing and difficult to treat. Breast cancer occurrence rates are higher than ever right now because of delayed screenings exams during the pandemic — so please take this seriously.
For those who are older than 75, you may have seen some information out there saying that women in that age group don’t need to be screened, but if you are able to and in good health, I would continue getting screened. It’s important to have a conversation with your doctor, but if you are in good health, you are never old enough to stop getting mammography screenings.
Why have I heard I don’t need mammography screenings after 75 years of age?
Some physicians view 75 as the cutoff age for mammography screenings because of a patient’s life expectancy. Once patients turn 75, it is important for their health care team to discuss what is appropriate for their given situation.
The American Cancer Society recommends annual mammography screenings for senior women with a life expectancy of at least 10 years.
According to JAMA Oncology, if a patient is a breast cancer survivor and is 75 years and older, the guidelines for mammography screenings are the following:
- Consider stopping if they are expected to live less than 5 years.
- Consider stopping if they are expected to live 5 to 10 years.
- Continue mammography screenings if they are expected to live more than 10 years.
It is important to understand that these guidelines are for mammography screenings only and do not apply to women with breast cancer symptoms, in which case diagnostic breast imaging should be pursued at any age.
If it is recommended to stop screenings, why should I get a mammogram?
A cancer found today will become more difficult to treat with each passing year, so it is important to still get screened even if you are over the age of 75 and your life expectancy is more than five to 10 years.
It’s also important to continue screening if you’ve had breast cancer previously. If you have had breast cancer in the past, there is an increased risk of it happening again.
What are some signs of breast cancer to look out for?
According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, some warning signs that you may have breast cancer include a new palpable lump in the breast or underarm, thickening or swelling of part of the breast, irritation or dimpling of breast skin, redness or flaky skin in the nipple area or breast, pulling in of the nipple or pain in the nipple area, spontaneous nipple discharge, any change in the size or shape of your breasts, or focal pain in any area of the breast.
If you experience any of these symptoms, talk with your doctor to get evaluated and see what your next steps should be.
How can I help reduce my risk of breast cancer?
There are three ways for seniors to help reduce their risk of breast cancer: staying physically active, reducing alcohol intake, and limiting postmenopausal hormone therapy.
Staying physically active can help you maintain a healthy weight, which is an important factor in preventing breast cancer. Most healthy adults should aim for at least two and a half hours of moderate exercise and strength training at least twice a week.
The amount of alcohol you consume directly affects your risk of getting breast cancer. The more alcohol you drink, the greater your risk becomes. Limit yourself to no more than one drink a day, since even small amounts can increase your risk.
If you are undergoing postmenopausal hormone therapy, you could be at a greater risk of breast cancer. Before you consider undergoing postmenopausal hormone replacement therapy, talk with your doctor to consider the risks and benefits of hormone therapy or to find other options to manage postmenopausal symptoms. If you decide to receive postmenopausal hormone therapy, use the lowest dose to manage your postmenopausal symptoms and have your doctor continue to monitor how much hormones you are taking.
Annual mammography screenings are the only measure proven to decrease the mortality from breast cancer. For senior women, it’s important to stay proactive with your health and be an advocate for yourself in the fight against breast cancer.
Be sure to speak with your doctor about your next annual mammography screening.
Dr. Angela Sie is a board-certified radiologist and imaging director of the MemorialCare Breast Center at MemorialCare Long Beach Medical Center. Her specialties include breast imaging and ultrasound, breast sonography, breast MRI and all image-guided breast procedures. Sie has had numerous articles published in peer-reviewed medical journals and was recognized as a Top Los Angeles Doctor by the Los Angeles Business Journal in 2022.
Source: Orange County Register