As Americans live longer, clinicians may need to reconsider whether they need to subject older patients to routine screenings that may trigger even more costly, invasive, painful, and unnecessary medical testing and procedures. For women 70 and older, for example, yet more new evidence raises doubts about mammograms designed to detect breast cancers.
As the New York Times reported, researchers in Boston examined 2000-2008 Medicare claims “to follow more than one million women, ages 70 to 84, who had undergone a mammogram.” Quoting Dr. Xabier Garcia-Albéniz, an oncologist and epidemiologist at RTI Health Solutions and lead author of a new observational study of their women subjects:
“They had never had breast cancer and had a ‘high probability,’ based on their medical histories, of living at least 10 more years. ‘That’s the population who will reap the benefit of screening,’ Dr. Garcia-Albéniz said, because it takes 10 years for mammography to show reduced mortality. The researchers divided the subjects into two groups: one that stopped screening, and another that continued having mammograms at least every 15 months. They found that mammograms provided a survival benefit, if a modest one, for women ages 70 to 74. In line with previous research, the study found that annually screening 1,000 women in that age group would result, after 10 years, in one less death from breast cancer. But among the women who were 75 to 84, annual mammograms did not reduce deaths, although they did, predictably, detect more cancer than in the group that discontinued screening. ‘You’re diagnosing more cancer, but that’s not translating to a mortality benefit,’ Dr. Garcia-Albéniz said.”