Mammograms have been a mainstay in the news in recent years as experts wage an ideological battle over their true value and how frequently they should be used. A new study out of San Francisco says that older women can rest easy getting one every two years—finding it’s as effective as an annual test.
The national study of more than 140,000 women between 66 and 89 years of age found that a mammogram every two years leads to far fewer false positive results. Also, such screening does not increase one’s risk of developing late-stage breast cancer in older women. Any other illnesses, like heart disease and diabetes, did not factor into the benefit-to-harm ratio.
Researchers collected information on about 3,000 women with breast cancer and another 138,000 without breast cancer from 1999 to 2006. This is the largest data set available for this patient base. In this study, researchers found no difference in rates of late-stage breast cancer between women screened annually and women screened biannually.
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In those screened each year, 48% of women between 66 and 74 had so-called “false positive” results. That compares to just 29% of women who were screened every two years.
The experts suggest that every two years is just fine for women in this age group; in fact, they say it’s the better option. There is no additional benefit from annual screening. Instead, they face nearly twice the false positives and biopsy recommendations, which can understandably lead to anxiety and further unnecessary medical care.
In health care, there are often many question marks floating around. When cancer is involved, we generally think “more is better.” Better safe than sorry. But here we find results that suggest we should consider life expectancy and co-existing illnesses in informing future recommendations about cancer screening in older adults.
Nobody likes going to get a mammography. Now we are empowered with information that says we don’t have to get one every single year.
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How Often Should You Have a Mammogram? Find Out Here
Braithwaite, D., et al., “Screening Outcomes in Older US Women Undergoing Multiple Mammograms in Community Practice: Does Interval, Age or Comorbidity Score Affect Tumor Characteristics or False Positive Rates?,” J Natl Cancer Inst., first published online February 5, 2013.