Breast cancer screening for women up to 75 years of age 'is effective'

In collaboration with the Press Association

A study presented at the Sixth European Breast Cancer Conference has highlighted the benefits of breast cancer screening for women aged 70 to 75. It is the first time that evidence has been produced to back up the notion that providing mammograms to women over the age of 70 is effective, as until recently very few women were screened at this age. However, in 1998 the breast cancer screening programme in The Netherlands - which originally covered women aged between 50 and 70 - was extended to included women up to the age of 75. Having studied five years' worth of data relating to the screening of women aged 70 to 75 in The Netherlands, Jacques Fracheboud, a senior researcher at the Erasmus Medical Center, Rotterdam, has concluded that screening has "started to have a statistically significant effect". He found that five years after the screening programme had been extended, the number of deaths from breast cancer in women aged 75 to 79 was in decline. What's more, the participation rate for older women improved. "The results of our study suggest that screening women aged 70 to 75 has a strong impact on breast cancer mortality and that it is effective and appropriate up to 75 years," confirmed Mr Fracheboud. "The cost per mammogram is approximately 50 Euros - the same as for younger women. Before the programme was extended up to 75 there was a fear that older women would be more expensive because fewer would participate and it might take more time to screen them due to reasons such as lower mobility. However this seems not to be case, and participation rose among the older women." According to Catherine Foot, head of policy at Cancer Research UK, the Government is planning to raise the age limit for breast cancer screening in the future, but in the meantime older women should be aware that they can still be screened after they stop receiving automatic invitations. "The age ranges chosen for breast cancer screening are based on careful research. The case for raising the age of breast screening was recently accepted in England, where over time the Government plans to raise the upper age limit to 73. So we welcome studies looking at ways to make the programme as effective as possible and look forward to seeing results of similar studies in the future," she commented. "Older women can ask their GP to arrange breast cancer screening once they stop receiving automatic invitations. It's important to know that the older a woman is, the more her breast cancer risk increases. So women should continue to be aware of the signs and symptoms of the disease."

Read the press release on the ECCO website

Find out more about who is screened for breast cancer on CancerHelp UK