Background: Randomized trials have shown that initiating breast cancer screening between ages 50 and 69 years and continuing it for 10 years decreases breast cancer mortality. However, no trials have studied whether or when women can safely stop screening mammography. An estimated 52% of women aged 75 years or older undergo screening mammography in the United States.
Objective: To estimate the effect of breast cancer screening on breast cancer mortality in Medicare beneficiaries aged 70 to 84 years.
Design: Large-scale, population-based, observational study of 2 screening strategies: continuing annual mammography, and stopping screening.
Setting: U.S. Medicare program, 2000 to 2008.
Participants: 1 058 013 beneficiaries aged 70 to 84 years who had a life expectancy of at least 10 years, had no previous breast cancer diagnosis, and underwent screening mammography.
Measurements: Eight-year breast cancer mortality, incidence, and treatments, plus the positive predictive value of screening mammography by age group.
Results: In women aged 70 to 74 years, the estimated difference in 8-year risk for breast cancer death between continuing and stopping screening was -1.0 (95% CI, -2.3 to 0.1) death per 1000 women (hazard ratio, 0.78 [CI, 0.63 to 0.95]) (a negative risk difference favors continuing). In those aged 75 to 84 years, the corresponding risk difference was 0.07 (CI, -0.93 to 1.3) death per 1000 women (hazard ratio, 1.00 [CI, 0.83 to 1.19]).
Limitations: The available Medicare data permit only 8 years of follow-up after screening. As with any study using observational data, the estimates could be affected by residual confounding.
Conclusion: Continuing annual breast cancer screening past age 75 years did not result in substantial reductions in 8-year breast cancer mortality compared with stopping screening.
Primary funding source: National Institutes of Health.