Featured Image

The Complications with Mammography in Older Women: Biomarkers, Life Expectancy, and Patient Communication

The Complications with Mammography in Older Women: Biomarkers, Life Expectancy, and Patient Communication


Mammography, a technique utilized for early detection of breast cancer, is an integral technique for women's health worldwide. However, its application in older women, typically those 75 years and above, has sparked a debate among medical professionals, with life expectancy conversations and the quest for more efficient preventative measures, like biomarkers, taking center stage. 

Elderly women typically undergo annual mammography screenings due to the higher cancer incidence in this age group. Persistent arguments exist that preventative measures like mammography could contribute significantly to extending their life spans (Source: Rosenblatt KA, et al. Breast Cancer Research and Treatment, 1995).

However, contrary views suggest that the benefits may not outweigh the potential harms for this population. According to an article published in the ‘Annals of Internal Medicine’, individuals with a short life expectancy might experience more unnecessary harm than benefit from mammography (Source: Walter LC, Covinsky KE, 2001). Therefore, some argue that the emphasis should be on the quality rather than quantity of life. 

At the heart of the debate is the difficulty of navigating conversations about life expectancy with patients. It's a delicate subject, and clinicians often grapple with how to discuss it appropriately. Some health professionals are hesitant to broach the topic, fearing it could lead to patient distress or harm the patient-physician relationship. Consequently, the decision to continue or discontinue mammography is a complex one, entailing a balance of clinical judgment, patient preference, and realistic discussion about life expectancy.


Click here to see our updated list of Cancer Antibodies

If you are interested in learning more about Breast Cancer or looking for resources,

check out the National Breast Cancer Foundation.


In recent years, the call for more individualized preventive measures has increased as a potential solution to this issue. A particularly promising area of research is the identification of biomarkers. Biomarkers are biological molecules found in blood, body fluids, or tissues that signal normal or abnormal processes in the body (Source: Strimbu K, Tavel JA. Journal of Biomedical Informatics, 2010). 

Predictive biomarkers would not only provide essential information about a person's risk of developing breast cancer but could also help clinicians and patients make more informed decisions. They may provide a better indication of who is likely to benefit from mammography, sparing those less likely to benefit from the associated potential harms such as false positives, overdiagnosis, and overtreatment (Source: Welch HG, Passow HJ. New England Journal of Medicine, 2014).

Moreover, the quest for biomarkers not only holds promise for providing personalized cancer risk assessments but also could bridge the gap in communication between clinicians and patients about life expectancy. Using biomarkers as a tool for objective risk assessment might facilitate more open discussions about the potential risks and benefits of mammography in the context of a patient’s overall health and life expectancy.

The mammography debate in older women underscores the need for personalized preventive strategies. Biomarkers offer an avenue for a more precise way to target individuals who will most benefit from mammography while reducing the potential harms for those with limited life expectancy. Whether a reliable biomarker is identified, or another tool to help inform policy and clinical guidelines; we hope research will find a way to improve clinician-patient conversations around mammography and other preventive measures in older women.


Research Grant Post October




  1. Rosenblatt KA, et al. Breast Cancer Research and Treatment
  2. Walter LC, Covinsky KE. Annals of Internal Medicine
  3. Strimbu K, Tavel JA. Journal of Biomedical Informatics
  4. Welch HG, Passow HJ. New England Journal of Medicine

Similar posts