Catherine Cahill never considered stopping annual breast screening once she turned 75. As an ovarian cancer survivor, she knew she had to be vigilant about regular mammograms. Some of the reproductive risk factors for ovarian cancer may also affect breast cancer risk.
A former nurse with a long and varied career, Catherine worked in many settings, including in schools, neonatal intensive care units, and programs for people with substance use disorders. Catherine continues to be active, and is an avid gardener. “I’m 80, but my mind is 40,” she says.
In September 2020, Catherine, who was then 79, went for her annual mammogram and ultrasound. “I get ultrasounds because my breasts are dense. The tests showed a change,” she says. She met with oncoplastic surgeon Sunny D. Mitchell, MD, Medical Director of The Breast Center at Montefiore Nyack Hospital, who ordered biopsies of both breasts.
The biopsy of the left breast found cancer, and Dr. Mitchell performed surgery on October 26. The surgery was followed by 33 days of radiation. Catherine is continuing with regular follow-up visits, and is taking hormone therapy to reduce her chances of a recurrence.
An easy recovery
Her surgery was ambulatory—Catherine was home the same day. The radiation left her a little tired. “It felt like a sunburn where they did the radiation, but they gave me cortisone cream, which helped soothe the area,” she says.
Catherine says her experience with Dr. Mitchell and everyone at The Breast Center was wonderful, and calls the people who treated her in radiology “angels.”
Guidelines for women over 75
Recommendations for whether or when a woman should stop getting regular mammograms vary. For instance, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force says there isn’t enough evidence to assess the balance of benefits and harms of screening mammography in women aged 75 years or older. The American Cancer Society says women should continue screening with mammography as long as their overall health is good and they have a life expectancy of 10 years or more.
“In my case, I feel that screening added years to my life—it was lifesaving. If I had stopped screening at 75, I wouldn’t be here. I’m a blessed woman,” Catherine says.