Many people are unaware that in this age group they are still at risk of getting breast cancer. In fact, your breast cancer risk is higher at 70 than it is at 50. Many breast cancers detected in this age group are growing more slowly but it's still important to detect them early so they will be easier to treat. The best way to detect an early breast cancer is on a screening mammogram.
Consider continuing to have mammograms
BreastScreen Aotearoa’s free mammogram service currently stops at age 69, although the Government has committed to "progressively increasing" the upper limit to 74. Currently, mammograms in this age group are not publicly funded, so if you want to continue having mammograms into your 70s you will have to pay for them yourself until the age extension comes into effect.
Beyond 75, discuss the benefits of continuing with regular screening with your GP, especially if you have other serious health issues.
BCFNZ encourages women in their 70s to contact BreastScreen Aotearoa to see if they are eligible for screening.
Why should I continue to have mammograms?
It's just as important to find and treat breast cancer early in older women as it is in younger women. These days, people are living longer, healthier lives so detecting and treating an early breast cancer can positively influence your life expectancy. In your 70s, glandular breast tissue has usually decreased markedly and been replaced by fatty tissue, making cancers much easier to detect.
Be breast aware
Even if you’re still having regular mammograms, it’s important to check your breasts regularly for any unusual changes. If you feel or see anything unusual, show your doctor immediately. Most breast cancers are diagnosed either on a screening mammogram or when a lump is felt but it’s important to know about other signs of breast cancer.
Many older women are not used to regularly checking their own breasts and may feel nervous about doing this. Just start by getting to know what your breasts normally look like.
- Check in the mirror, looking both front on, and side to side. Lift your arms above your head and see if this produces any distortion in breast shape. Check the underside of your breasts too.
- With one hand on your head, use the other hand to check your breast for lumps or unusual thickened tissue
- Use the flat of three fingers rather than fingertips, and press quite firmly.
- Repeat on the other side.
If you’re unsure how to check your breasts, watch our instructional video or see step by step instructions and diagrams.
In all age groups it’s important to stay active, maintain a healthy weight and limit alcohol consumption.
Understand your family history.
Talk with your family members about cancer on both sides of your family. While the risk of inherited breast cancer is low, talk about it with your doctor. If you are potentially at high risk, you may be eligible for genetic testing with Genetic Health Service NZ, which requires a referral from your doctor.
People in their 70s who are known to be at high risk are eligible for publicly funded screening. Your GP can refer you for this.