New interactive tool "Screen70+" helps older women decide whether or not to have mammograms
10 April 2014, 2:12PM
The New Zealand Breast Cancer Foundation
The NZ Breast Cancer Foundation today launched Screen70+, an interactive online decision aid to help women over 70 – and their GPS – decide if they should continue with screening mammograms.
Screen70+ is based on the work of Dr Mara Schonberg at Harvard Medical School. It looks at a woman’s overall health and life expectancy, along with breast cancer risk and the pluses and minuses of screening.
“Our research shows that 90% of women don’t realise their breast cancer risk is higher in their seventies than it was in their fifties,” said NZ Breast Cancer Foundation chief executive Van Henderson.
Free screening with BreastScreen Aotearoa stops at age 69. In Australia, free mammogram screening was extended to age 74 last year, and in the UK, a large-scale trial of breast screening to age 73 is underway. The UK Public Health Office recently launched a “Don’t assume you’re past it” campaign aimed at women over 70.
“We’re getting more calls to our advice line from older women wondering whether they should be continuing with mammograms,” Van Henderson said. “We think it’s an important conversation to be having.”
Historically, arguments against screening older women have been based on the likelihood of other medical conditions being more likely than breast cancer to contribute to mortality. But a New Zealand woman aged 70 in 2014 is likely to live to 89, twenty years after her last free mammogram, and people increasingly expect to say fit and active for longer. 70% of the women surveyed for the NZBCF by Colmar Brunton rated their health as good or excellent.
The NZBCF wants women to be aware of their breast cancer risk as they age, to be aware of all the potential symptoms of breast cancer, and to continue with mammograms while they’re in good health.
“Not everyone wants to continue with screening, and that’s very much an individual woman’s choice,” said Van Henderson. “But we need to know our risk, and make an informed decision. If you’re in good health, then that decision might be the same one you made in your fifties. So many older women lead active lives, playing a vital role in their family and their community, we want them taking good care of themselves.”
The Screen70+ online decision aid is available at www.nzbcf.org.nz/OlderWomen .
CAPTION: Lorraine Downes' mother Glad was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 76. Now, Lorraine is a NZBCF ambassador. She and Glad want to tell you about your breast cancer risk as you age. Watch Breast Health for Older Women.
 The research, undertaken by Colmar Brunton, questioned 204 women aged 70-84, a sample size statistically representative of the NZ population
 88.7 years at medium death rates, based on the Statistics NZ “How long will I live?” calculator