Including women over 70 in a national breast cancer screening programme does not lead to a large fall in advanced cases, and may actually lead to overdiagnosis and overtreatment, a Dutch study has concluded.
The research, conducted in the Netherlands and published in the British Medical Journal today, states that this can undermine quality of life as older people are more vulnerable to the side-effects of breast cancer treatment.
Breakthrough Breast Cancer Scotland welcomed the study, but warned that no conclusions should be drawn until similar UK research is completed in 2016.
Charity director James Jopling said: “This study provides some useful insights as women over 70 were not included in the original breast screening trials on which modern screening programmes are based.
“It’s very important we learn more about the benefits and risks for this particular age group before we decide whether to offer these women routine screening.
“No conclusive results should be taken from this study, however, until we see the results from the comprehensive age extension trial taking place in England – the results of which may be followed in Scotland.
“This is a very large randomised controlled trial looking at the benefits and risks of screening women aged 70 to 73, the results of which will be directly applicable to UK women.
“Whilst we await these results, women over 70 who would like to be screened can make an appointment with their local screening service.
“It’s important that they make their decision whether or not to go for screening with an understanding that we don’t yet know all the benefits and risks of screening for this age group.”
Currently, the Scottish Breast Screening Programme – which has been running since 1988 – provides routine screening every three years for women between 50 and 70.
Women over 70 can still be screened by self-referring themselves to their local breast screening unit.