Vitality - Healthy Aging NewsletterSpring 2012

Do Mammogram Needs Change as We Age?

Your Group Health doctor will discuss your breast cancer risks and mammogram screening schedule as part of your well-care visit, and send you a reminder letter when it's time to be tested.

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Janet Chestnut, MD, a Group Health oncologist and chair of Cancer Screening, and Diana Buist, PhD, MPH, scientific investigator with Group Health Research Institute, discussed the topic with Vitality.

Why is it important to get regular mammograms?
Mammograms have been found to be the most effective way to detect breast cancer early, and are the only screening tests proven in clinical trials to reduce a woman's risk of dying of breast cancer.

How often should I get a mammogram?
For women aged 40 to 74, we recommend every two years. If you have a personal history of breast or ovarian cancer, previous biopsy results that indicate an increased risk of breast cancer, or a family history of breast or ovarian cancer, we recommend getting a mammogram every year.

Do I need to continue screening after age 75?
At age 75, we encourage women to discuss the benefits of ongoing screening mammograms with their doctor. We can help you determine whether it's reasonable for you to continue mammograms beyond that time.

Why is it especially important to get tested from ages 60 to 74?
Breast cancer risk increases with age, so the benefit of mammograms from ages 60 to 74 is much greater than in younger women. Plus, testing is more effective in older women because their breasts aren't as dense.

Are false positives or negatives likely?
Like any other test, mammograms can have false positives (a worrisome finding that upon additional testing or biopsy is proved to be benign) and false negatives (when a mammogram looks normal, but cancer is present). Your doctor can discuss this with you in more detail.

Are ultrasounds or MRIs helpful?
An ultrasound is used primarily after screening or diagnostic mammograms when a radiologist wants to further investigate an area. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is used only in patients at high risk for breast cancer. Neither are effective screening tools.

Are mammograms safe?
Group Health Cooperative has top-rated radiologists and state-of-the-art equipment including digital mammography and MRI. The amount of radiation used for a mammogram is very small, and has not been found to increase the risk of breast cancer. It can be compared to the amount of radiation you get from flying in an airplane across the country.

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