Q: My mother who is in her late sixties seems to believe since she has gone through menopause she no longer needs to see a gynecologist for annual exams. She also refuses to have a mammogram which her primary physician recommended. Do you have any information so I can try to change her mind. This is worrisome for me.
A: Approximately 275,000 women are diagnosed every year with breast cancer. A woman has a one-in-eight chance of developing breast cancer, as a woman ages the odds increase. About half of the newly diagnosed cases are in women over the age of sixty and another 20% are in women over the age of seventy.
Generally a woman should start having mammograms around age forty five. If there is a family history of breast cancer woman are encouraged to start having exams at an earlier age. Women in the age group of fifty to fifty five should have a mammogram every two years. After age seventy five exams are up to the discretion of the woman and her physician. This is a suggested guideline and there are always going to be exceptions to the rule. Some physicians may follow the rule of annual exams after reviewing a woman’s past medical history. In every case a woman should be performing manual self exams regularly feeling for any abnormalities.
A sixty year old woman has about a 9% chance of developing breast cancer over the next 20 years. For some reason far too many women think breast cancer is more of a risk for younger adults and tend to cease exams once they reach an “older adult status.” October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and it is extremely important to get this message out to all older women and their families.
The second part of your question refers to annual pelvic exams, these should be conducted before, during and after menopause. A woman over the age of sixty five may choose to discontinue Pap tests after 3 consecutive negative results. The annual gynecological exams should continue to protect health since the physician is looking for changes beyond what the Pap test looks for.
Our agency does not give medical advice. Information was gathered from articles published by Harvard Medical School and the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (a panel of national experts in disease prevention and evidence based medicine).
Without hesitation encourage your mother to schedule exams in the very near future.
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