Women urged to keep up breast screening
Breast cancer doesn't discriminate when it comes to age.
Kristelle Thomsen from Mt Roskill in Auckland wishes her grandmother knew that before she stopped having mammograms at age 69.
Joy Ford died at 78 after a year-long battle with breast cancer.
She believed her age meant she was no longer at risk.
The risk of breast cancer increases with age but 90 per cent of women believe it actually decreases after their free mammograms stop, a study commissioned by the New Zealand Breast Cancer Foundation shows.
"We were surprised just how few are aware that their risk goes up as they age," chief executive Van Henderson says.
Mammograms are free every two years for women aged 45 to 69 years through a national screening programme.
The foundation recommends women continue with mammograms every two years into their 70s because they are increasingly likely to live up to 20 years after their last free check.
It has launched an online tool to help women over 70 decide whether to continue with mammograms.
Screen70+, which was developed as a result of Harvard Medical School research, looks at a woman's overall health, life expectancy and breast cancer risk, and the benefits and drawbacks of screening.
Ford was having regular mammograms until she no longer qualified.
"She went for that final mammogram at 69 and she got the impression that the likelihood of her getting cancer was pretty low and not to worry," Thomsen says.
"I think she just honestly thought she was too old.
"I've since heard that older women do continue to have mammograms and that was an option but I don't think that was something she necessarily understood. I don't think we understood either."
Ford discovered a lump in her breast at 77.
She went on to have a mastectomy, radiation and chemotherapy.
She was given the all-clear a year later before the cancer returned just weeks later.
At 78 she decided not to continue with treatment and died four months later after the cancer spread to her lungs.
Thomsen wants to warn other women not to think they are exempt because of their age.
Henderson would like clinics to offer discounted mammograms to women over 70 since age is the second-highest risk factor for breast cancer.
The foundation wants the Government to increase funding to BreastScreen Aotearoa to offer women free exams up to 74, she says.
A similar policy was implemented in Australia last year.