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Breast Cancer Health Center

Women's Magazines Misrepresent Breast Cancer Risk

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Such stories are likely to have tragic overtones, Schellenbach tells WebMD, [because] "the women are young and invariably young children are involved. And they may be dealing with a hereditary form of breast cancer or a more virulent form of breast cancer."

"The increasing concern is that older women -- who don't have much media directed toward them -- tend to think that, 'If I've lived this long without getting it I'm not going to get it,' " says Schellenbach. Statistics show that women over 50 get fewer mammograms than do younger women, who are more inclined to see gynecologists regularly for birth control, she says.

The ACS has developed educational programs for older women, and tries to interest the media in stories that illustrate older women's health concerns.

"There just aren't many publications, TV, and radio geared to that age group, like there are for younger women," Schellenbach says.

Also, older women are often no longer cared for by gynecologists -- unless they have gynecological disorders -- so the doctors they tend to see are cardiologists, rheumatologists, and eye doctors, says Schellenbach.

"And those are not doctors that would tell them to get a mammogram," she says. And while Medicare covers screening mammography, a large number of women don't take advantage of it, she says.

"In fact, we were considering a campaign targeting those doctors, saying de facto, 'You are the primary care physicians of older women.' It would make so much sense for those physicians to inquire at least about regular testing these women should be getting."

Tumors are generally slow-growing in women over 65 -- and breast tissue generally has changed to a fatty tissue that makes tumors very visible on mammograms -- so women may not require annual visits, Schellenbach tells WebMD. "It's not a recommendation we make right now, but there has been some discussion."

Older women with breast cancer -- even women in their 80s and older -- "should be treated as aggressively as their own personal health would indicate," she says. "Unless there are serious competing medical problems, they do very well with surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy."

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