Breast Cancer Awareness – The Importance of Mammograms as You Age

Once women reach the age of 40, yearly mammograms, along with a physicals, eye exams, etc. are a part of life.  Getting a mammogram is one of the best ways to detect and diagnose the early stages of breast cancer at a time when it’s most treatable. Some women, however, question the need or benefits of mammograms after reaching a certain age.

A study of more than 12,000 women age 80 or older found that there are still benefits of regular mammograms. The highlights of the study are:

  • 68% of women who had regular mammograms were diagnosed with stage I breast cancer
  • 56% of women who got mammograms irregularly and 33% of women who DIDN’T get mammograms were diagnosed with stage I disease
  • 32% of women who had regular mammograms were diagnosed with stage II, III or IV breast cancer
  • 44% of women who got mammograms irregularly and 67% of women who DIDN’T get mammograms were diagnosed with stage II, III or IV disease

One of the most staggering results of the study is that women over 80 who had regular mammograms were most likely to still be living 5 years after being diagnosed with breast cancer as compared to women who had irregular or no mammograms.

The study also found that only about 20% of woman over the age of 80 actually received regular mammograms mostly due to a decline in overall health, decreased mobility, financial issues, and misinformation about the efficacy of mammograms.

Many women think that if they haven’t been diagnosed with breast cancer by the time they are 80 they won’t get it, however about 20% of all breast cancer diagnoses in the United States are in women over the age of 80.

Annual mammograms are important, especially as you age. Keep in mind that:

  • Breast cancer does occur in older women
  • Breast cancer can still be treated very effectively in older women
  • Regardless of age, mammograms can detect breast cancer early, when it’s most treatable
  • Age isn’t an excuse for neglecting your health
  • According to the American Cancer Society, early-stage breast cancer has a five-year survival rate of 99 percent. Later-stage cancer has a survival rate of 27 percent.
  • More than 75 percent of women who have breast cancer have no family history.

Mammography is detection, not prevention. Having a normal mammogram one year does not guarantee that future mammograms will be normal. Having a mammogram every year increases the chance of detecting the cancer when it is small and when it is most easily treated which also improves survival.

For more information on mammograms, including where to get one and the benefits and risks, visit the Mammograms page, or consult with your physician.

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