Breast Screening

Breast screening after age 70

The incidence of breast cancer increases with age, about 8 out of 10 cases of breast cancer occur in women over 50 (NHS Choices 2015). The risk of developing breast cancer continues to rise as women get older.
The NHS Breast Screening Programme, set up in 1988, now invites all women in the UK between 50 and 70 for free breast screening every three years. In some areas, women aged 47 to 49 and 71 to 73 receive invitations for screening. This is part of a study looking at whether to extend the breast screening age range. Although women over 73 are not routinely invited for breast screening, they are encouraged to call the local unit to request breast screening every three years. Women are given cards at their last routine breast screening appointment to help them remember (for more information see Resources).
Some older women we spoke with attended routine mammograms every three years. A 75-year-old said she asked to be routinely invited after the age of 70 because women were still at risk of getting breast cancer and any breast problems would be detected and treated early. One 72-year-old woman, who wasn't sure when routine invitations stopped, said she'd continue having mammograms especially because she'd been recalled on one occasion. For her, this stressed the importance of attending. Another woman, aged 69, said that she'd always attended for breast screening in case there were any breast problems, and would continue attending as long as she was fit.

Many women didn't know how long they would be routinely invited for breast screening and several were confused about it. One woman said she was very pleased to learn that women over 70 were still eligible for free mammograms and felt that this should be made clearer. Some other women in their 50s and early 60s also said that, after the age of 70, they would want to continue having routine mammograms. Many said it would be reassuring to know they were fit and healthy, and that any breast problems would be detected early (see 'Reasons for attending breast screening'). Some British Chinese women under 70 wanted to continue having routine mammograms every three years but had received no information about screening for some years. They would have liked more information on breast screening and breast cancer in Cantonese (see 'Information').

Some women we spoke to had had breast cancer. One of these encouraged women to go for screening after the age of 73 as older women were still at risk of getting breast cancer. She stressed that mammography was quick and saved lives. Many women who'd had breast cancer said they'd continue having mammograms after they were 73 and until they were no longer fit enough to do so. Some, who'd had routine mammograms done privately, said they'd continue to be screened privately after they were 70 (now 73). One woman who'd had breast cancer said she'd have routine mammograms after the age of 70 if her doctors advised it, and would be reassured by having regular breast screening.

Some women were unsure whether they'd attend for routine screening after they were 70. Several said they probably would as long as they were still fit and healthy. A few said they would check with their GP first, while others felt they wouldn't attend if they'd had no breast problems up until then, but stressed that it was still important to be breast aware. One of them wondered if breast cancer developed more slowly after the age of 70. Several women felt that after the age of 70 other health problems were more likely to affect them than breast cancer.

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Last reviewed March 2016.

Last updated March 2016.


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