Health Watch -- Mammograms

Health Watch is a Public Service of the Office of News and Publications and is intended to provide general information only and should not replace the advice of a medical professional. You should contact your physician if you have questions about any of these topics.


Older women need mammograms even more than younger women do.

Mammograms are one of the most effective tools available for fighting breast cancer. A mammogram can detect cancer in its earliest stages, when it is most treatable - long before a lump can be felt. But the women who need them most may be the least likely to have regular mammograms.

Breast cancer risk rises with age, with most breast cancer deaths occurring in women over the age of 65. Doctors at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas say at age 40, a woman's risk of developing breast cancer in the next 10 years is 1.5 percent. At age 70, the risk of developing breast cancer in the next 10 years goes up to 4 percent.

Unfortunately, many older women aren't getting screening mammograms. Dr. Marilyn Leitch, a UT Southwestern breast cancer expert, says some older women don't get screened because getting to an imaging facility is inconvenient. Others may not be aware of their risk because media coverage about breast cancer tends to focus on younger women. Younger women are more likely to actively request mammograms, while older women are more likely to have a mammogram if a doctor recommends it.

Medicare covers screening mammography, and mammograms are especially accurate in older women. Their breast tissue is less dense, so suspicious spots show up even more clearly.

It's generally recommended that women begin having annual mammograms at the age of 40. Women at high risk for breast cancer because of family history or personal history with the disease should talk to their doctors about the best screening schedule for them.

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Oct. 2004

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