Annual Mammograms Don’t Benefit Older Women: Study

Tuesday, 05 Feb 2013 01:20 PM

By Nick Tate

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Annual mammograms aren’t any more beneficial to older women than X-rays taken every other year, new research shows.

The study, by University of California-San Francisco researchers, also found less frequent mammograms lead to markedly fewer false positive results that can lead to painful and unnecessary biopsies and other procedures.

The findings, published in in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, are the latest in a series to suggest frequent mammography in older women may not be useful or necessary.

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"Screening every other year, as opposed to every year, does not increase the probability of late-stage breast cancer in older women," said lead researcher Dejana Braithwaite, an assistant professor of epidemiology and biostatistics. "Moreover, the presence of other illnesses such as diabetes or heart disease made no difference in the ratio of benefit to harm."

The UCSF findings are based on a study of more than 140,000 women between the ages of 66 and 89 years. From 1999 to 2006, researchers collected the health records of 2,993 older women with breast cancer and 137,949 women without breast cancer — "the largest available screening mammography data set in the United States," according to Braithwaite.

The researchers found no difference in rates of late-stage breast cancer between women screened annually and those tested every other year. But they did find 48 percent of women between the ages of 66 and 74 screened every year had false positive results, compared to 29 percent of women in the same age range who were screened every two years.

"Women aged 66 to 74 years who choose to undergo screening mammography should be screened every two years," said senior author Karla Kerlikowske, M.D., a professor of medicine at UCSF and a physician at the UCSF-affiliated San Francisco VA Medical Center. "They get no added benefit from annual screening, and face almost twice the false positives and biopsy recommendations, which may cause anxiety and inconvenience."

The study was funded, in part, by the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health.

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