In this study, we assessed the results of the Dutch breast cancer screening programme for women aged 70-75, and discussed the current upper age limit of the women invited. We compared the main outcome parameters of the screening programme 1998-2000 for women aged 70-75, with those in women aged 50-69. Breast cancer detection rates were also compared with prediction from 2 variants of a simulation model of breast cancer screening, assuming the mean sojourn time, i.e., the duration of the preclinical detectable phase, to increase or not with age above the age of 65. The underlying idea is that an increase of the sojourn time with age will lead to a less favourable balance between screening benefits and harms from a certain age on. Of the 315,103 women (aged 70-75) invited, 65.6% participated. The attendance increased from 1998 to 2000. For women aged 74 and 75 years, this increase was almost 10%. As a result of the 187,207 screening examinations performed within this age group, 18.3 per 1,000 women were referred and 10.3 per 1,000 breast cancer were diagnosed. Detection rates in both initial and subsequent screens increased steadily with age and got close to those model-simulated rates, which assume a continuously increasing sojourn time with age. A major finding of this study is that the screening participation among elderly women is high. The outcomes of our study suggest a steadily increasing sojourn time of breast tumours beyond the age of 69, leading to a strong increase in detection of cancers, and therefore, disfavouring the balance with the benefits of screening. At present, 75 years of age can be regarded as an appropriate upper age limit for the Dutch programme.
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