Are you a provider?
Mammograms and Older Women: Is there an Age to Stop Screening?

Mammograms and Older Women: Is there an Age to Stop Screening?

Tripment, Inc
Tripment Health Team

What is a mammogram?

A mammogram is an X-ray image of the breast. Mammograms are used to detect early signs of breast cancer. Usually, patients get mammograms regularly to detect cancer early. They can also sometimes detect cancer up to three years before it could be felt during a touch breast exam. However, mammograms cannot prove that an irregular area is cancerous. If an area of concern is detected on a mammogram, the doctor may schedule a biopsy to remove a tissue sample for testing.

What are the different types of mammograms?

Usually, the two types are screening mammograms and diagnostic mammograms.

Screening mammograms are performed to check for breast cancer in patients who currently do not show any signs of disease or illness. In addition, these mammograms detect hidden tumors or micro-calcifications that would not be felt in a regular touch breast exam.

Diagnostic mammograms are used to check for breast cancer in patients who do show signs of illness. This type of mammogram utilizes more X-rays and tends to take longer than screening mammograms to complete. These are also used when there is difficulty getting clear images of the breast tissue during a screening mammogram. Also, diagnostic mammograms are used for women who have been previously treated for breast cancer or need interval follow-up exams.

The diagnostic mammogram procedure takes around 10-15 minutes, where a mammogram technician will position your breasts in between 2 imaging plates. These plates will apply pressure while taking multiple X-ray images from different positions. For patients who experience discomfort due to the pressure, it is recommended they take pain killers in anticipation.

What are the early indicators of breast cancer?

If you are wondering about signs that would be considered abnormalities or signs of illness, here is a small list of the most common ones:

  • Detection of a lump that you have not noticed before, especially under the arm
  • Sudden change in breast size
  • Abnormal nipples
  • Swelling or “dimpling”
  • Breast pain
  • Discharge from nipple
  • Skin discoloration or change on the breast or nipple

How often should you get a mammogram screening?

This depends on your age range and your risk of breast cancer. If you have a history of cancer within your family, you are usually regarded as high risk. Therefore, you will probably come into facilities to get checkups more often than people who have no prior family history. However, even if you do not have a history of cancer within your family and do not have any of the signs that might indicate breast cancer, you should still get tested regularly. For women who are 65 years of age and older, your risk of developing breast cancer is reduced, but biannual checkups are usually recommended.

When should you start getting mammograms?

The age to start getting mammograms, or mammogram age, varies from woman to woman. For women with no history and no symptoms, your mammogram screening age, when it is usually recommended that you start getting annual checkups, is after age 45. However, if you are at a high risk of developing breast cancer or notice any abnormalities with your breasts, annual mammogram checkups might be recommended to start earlier.

Senior woman having a mammogram scan at the diagnostic imaging center

Does Medicare pay for mammograms after age 70?

Yes, Medicare does cover mammograms for recipients who are 70 years old and above, with there being no cut-off age for Mammograms covered by Medicare. They cover the total cost of annual screening mammograms and 80% of the price for diagnostic mammograms. Medicare will continue to cover the cost of screening mammograms after age 75. However, it is recommended to consult your doctor to see if it is still beneficial to get mammograms at that age.

When do you stop getting mammograms?

There are no strict mammogram recommendations by age at which you should stop getting the checkup; however, some organizations and task forces say that annual checkups for women starting around their 60s are not necessary, and biannual checkups would be sufficient. This is due to the fact that there has been little research and studies on the effectiveness of screening mammograms in women in their later life, after their 60s. If you believe that you are approaching an age where there might be more risks to the benefits of mammograms, please consult with your doctor.

Are there any risks of mammograms?

Mammograms use a minimal amount of radiation that is less than that of a standard chest X-ray. Because the dosage is so small, there are no quantifiable signs that this would cause cancer. However, it is important to know that mammograms are not perfect. While unlikely, they can give patients false negatives where cancer is not detected during the test and a false positive when normal abnormalities appear cancerous. While there are these slight disadvantages, mammograms are incredibly safe, and there is little risk of danger. There are also no side effects from mammograms except for slight soreness in breasts after the exam.

What should you do if the mammogram result is abnormal?

First, it is important to consult with your doctor after receiving abnormal Mammogram results. This will not always indicate that you have breast cancer. Sometimes these results will show cysts, benign lumps, or non-cancerous tumors that need further inspection. In most cases, you will be called back for a follow-up mammogram to compare the results before fully understanding the situation. If you received a screening mammogram before, a diagnostic mammogram or a breast ultrasound would be used to take more detailed images. From these tests, if these don’t look like breast cancer, then no further testing is required, and you may return to your former mammogram screening schedule. However, suppose a lump or abnormality shows cause for concern. In that case, a doctor will order a biopsy so the tissue can be tested for cancer, or your doctor may order further test imaging. If the biopsy is not cancerous, you may return to your former mammogram screening schedule. If the biopsy does come back cancerous, you and your doctor will work together to develop a treatment plan.

Search healthcare providersList your practice
Read this next