Older Women Still Don't Get Mammograms

By: Jessa Goddard
By: Jessa Goddard

Knoxville (WVLT) - Even though a woman's breast cancer risk increases with age, older women traditionally have not been screened as aggressively for breast cancer as younger women.

And Thursday, UT Medical Center reached out to some "savvy seniors" to remind them to make mammograms part of their yearly routine.

Emily Whitehead started getting mammograms when she turned 40, and she's had one every year since. "I happened to go on my birthday, just happened. And his secretary said that's a good time to remember, so I've kept that up."

But Emily is one of a declining number of women over age 65 who receive a yearly mammogram.

And, UT Medical Center Radiologist Kathleen Hudson says new findings suggest women 65 and older tend to over report the number of mammograms they do get. "And we've seen a decrease over the last few years of women over age 65 getting mammograms, only about 60, 70 percent are getting them... which is a little bit alarming."

Medicare estimates the screening rates are about 48 percent for women ages 65 to 69.

So, while older women are at the greatest risk for developing breast cancer, they are the least likely group to be screened regularly by mammography.

UT Medical Center's Breast Health Outreach Program received a grant to provide a luncheon with health information, and the opportunity for seniors to tour UT's mobile mammography unit.

"And, as they get older, I think some individuals may feel like they may be exempt because they've got past a certain point in their life,” says Brenda Shelton with the Grainger County Office on Aging.

The tour, also serving as a reminder to women age 65 and older, that mammography screening is covered annually by Medicare and is especially sensitive at detecting cancer in older women, who have the highest breast cancer risk.

The incidence of invasive breast cancer among women age 65 and older is twice that of women 35 to 44, though the death rate from breast cancer is three times higher among seniors than younger women.

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