Breast cancer screening doesn't need to stop at 70
WITH Australian women living longer and staying healthier, there is a strong argument for them to continue having mammographic breast screening, even after reaching the age of 70.
In recent years research data has shown increasing women's breast screening upper age limit to 74 does have benefits for the person diagnosed with early-stage cancer.
Past-president of the Australasian Society of Breast Physicians, Dr Deborah Pfeiffer, said that previous studies into the survival benefit of screening had only been conducted on women aged 50 to 69, with the peak incidence of breast cancer proven to be in that age group, with the average age of diagnosed breast cancer in Australian women of 59 to 60.
"However, the older a woman becomes, the more likely breast cancer may occur,” Dr Pfeiffer said.
"As the number of women goes down with ageing, the absolute number of women affected goes down.
"However, the longer you live, the longer you are likely to be susceptible to breast cancer,” she added.
Survival rates in cancer are usually judged at five or 10 years so if a person would be expected to live that period of time, then screening for cancer may be worthwhile.
If they aren't expected to live another five or 10 years, then there may be an argument against screening.
Screening involves looking for evidence of the disease in a person who has no symptoms.
"With screening, we want to find the cancer at the earliest possible stage where you anticipate treatment will be less invasive and more successful,” she added.
The most effective screening is still mammography, but as there is no perfect screening tool, Dr Pfeiffer also recommends all women over 70 continue to have an annual clinical breast examination which can be done by a trained breast care nurse or by their doctor.
"Women will be invited to attend the Breast Screen program up to the age of 74,” Dr Pfeiffer said.
"After that, the reminders will stop, unless the woman has a personal past history of breast cancer.”
For those women who want to continue to be screened, they will need to book it themselves or with the assistance of their doctor.
That screening will then only be offered every two years.
In the meantime, Dr Pfeiffer recommends all women should continue to practice breast awareness once a month looking for any changes in their look and feel.