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Breast Cancer Health Center

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Age Bias May Hinder Breast Cancer Care

Screening, Treatment Often Less Aggressive in Older Women With Breast Cancer

70s Are Peak Age continued...

"In the United States, and to a lesser degree in Canada where I live, cost considerations drive health care access," he tells WebMD. "If we see this type of age-driven disparity in Sweden it is not difficult to imagine that it is worse in other countries."

But American Cancer Society spokesman Len Lichtenfeld, MD, says because there is no age cutoff for mammography screening in the United States, it is impossible to say how applicable the Swedish findings are to this country.

"I was stunned to see that so few older women in Sweden got mammograms," he tells WebMD. "If they are excluding women from mammography screening because they are over a certain age, it isn't surprising that these women are going to have more advanced cancers when they are finally diagnosed."

Lichtenfeld concedes that older cancer patients in the United States often receive less aggressive treatment than younger ones. This is partly due to the fact that elderly patients may be more ill in general, with other medical problems that need addressing. But this does not entirely explain the treatment inequity.

Many women also stop getting mammograms as they grow older, mistakenly believing that they are no longer at risk for breast cancer.

But Lichtenfeld points out that in the United States the peak years for breast cancer diagnosis are between age 75 and 79.

"Women tend to get more complacent about screening as they age," he says. "But that is exactly what they shouldn't do. Just because you are in your 70s don't think that your risk of breast cancer goes away."

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