Why are demented women still getting mammograms?

In case you haven’t read enough about the mammogram debate, here’s one more post.

Newsweek’s Sharon Begley points to an study showing that a significant number of elderly women with dementia are still receiving mammograms to screen for breast cancer. These women have an average life-expectancy of 3.3 years; the American Cancer Society recommends those with life-expectancies less than 5 years not be screened.

So, why is this happening? The cynical among us may say “money,” and perhaps they may have a point: “If an elderly woman with severe dementia is also married and with a net worth of $100,000 or more, she is more than twice as likely to get these inappropriate mammograms as her poorer peers.”

Then again, most doctors don’t profit from ordering a mammogram.

More likely is that old habits die hard. Many doctors are used to giving women yearly mammograms, and with conflicting recommendations as to when to stop, physicians often take the path of least resistance and simply keep ordering the test.

What’s not in doubt, however, is that elderly, demented women should not be screened. The harms clearly outweigh the benefits, and the fact that it’s happening so often is a wake-up call; both to doctors and to patients’ families who sometimes demand the screening.

Cancer screening is not without risk. Especially in those with only a few years left to live.