In 2009, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) released a statement recommending that mammograms should not be widely encouraged for women over 75, stating that there was not enough evidence that showed a benefit in these women receiving regular mammograms.
However, further research has shown that routine mammograms in older women can catch breast cancer diagnosis early.
SHARE’s outreach programs seek to educate underserved communities about breast and ovarian cancer in a way that is interactive, easy to understand, and empowers them to get involved in their own healthcare. Olympia Cepeda, Outreach Coordinator at SHARE, has been leading outreach to women over 60, and does so with a very important message and story.
“I always tell a story about a friend who was diagnosed at age 80 with breast cancer. The cancer was caught early by a mammogram, and with chemotherapy and surgery she is doing just fine,” says Olympia.
Stories like these are common, and with years of experience in outreach and education, Olympia has been spreading awareness of the importance of proper screening during free presentations throughout New York City’s five boroughs. Olympia normally addresses senior centers, where public health education is sometimes slim. By giving presentations in both Spanish and English and distributing materials on the signs of breast cancer, available treatments, mammography facilities, and more, Olympia is able to connect with seniors and educate them on why they still need to look after their health, including getting regular mammogram screenings.
“There is a lot of confusion on when women should stop getting mammograms,” Olympia says.
Some medical professionals have expressed concerns about overtreatment; a mammogram is an X-ray of the breasts that can sometimes detect benign or insignificant medical conditions. These mammogram results can spark fear that cancer is present, leading to unnecessary procedures.
However, a mammogram can detect cancer early, and when it does, there’s a direct correlation to a longer life expectancy. Dr. Judith Malmgren, an affiliate assistant professor at the University of Washington’s School of Public Health and Community Medicine and one of the researchers of a 2014 study published in Radiology concluded that “a 75-year-old woman today has a 13-year life expectancy. You only need 5 years of life expectancy to make mammography screening worthwhile.”
SHARE always suggests consulting a trusted physician to help come to a decision about your health and wellbeing, but Olympia wants women to know that it’s OK to get a second opinion. “We are blessed to live in a part of the United States where there are a large concentration of breast specialists,” she says. “I can’t stress enough that every woman should have a real discussion with a doctor about breast cancer screenings and which options are best for them.”
Olympia’s dedication to education and research has put her in touch with over 4,300 women in 2018 alone. Olympia has also helped refer women over the age of 65 who got their mammograms done at American-Italian Cancer Foundation’s mammogram-van, which served over 800 women this past year.