Health Tips: The life-saving benefits of mammograms for older women

Former First Lady Nancy Reagan was 66 years old when she underwent a unilateral mastectomy to remove an early adenocarcinoma. According to The New York Times, “The cancer, seven millimeters in diameter, was about the smallest doctors can detect on a mammogram.” In the years that followed, she was dedicated to promoting routine mammograms for women, even later in life. 

Recently, however, experts have questioned whether the benefits of mammography outweigh the risks of overtreatment for older women. Twenty-eight percent of women ages 65 to 74 skip the diagnostic scan, while 44% of those over 75 do. That may not be smart.

Now, a new Swedish study that analyzed data on thousands of cases of breast cancer has found that breast cancer death rates are 27% lower in women 70 to 74 who opt to continue routine mammography compared to those who stop at age 69. 

Here in the states, the United State Preventive Services Task Force recommends screening mammography every two years for women 50 to 74 years old. That’s because if you are at average risk for breast cancer, those are the years the screening offers the most benefits, especially if you’re in good health. Older than that? Today, women on average live to 81, so you still have a lot of living to do! Getting mammography regularly increases the chance of detecting breast cancer early when, even late in life, it is treatable or curable. So talk with your doctor about your individual situation.

Mouthing off to COVID-19

It’s hard to believe that even today some folks think washing a kid’s mouth out with soap for sassing off is a good idea. The American Academy of Pediatrics considers it a form of child abuse. But as recently as this year, a Florida teacher was suspended after she declared a talkative student needed to be punished like that and proceeded to put hand sanitizer (the modern version) into his mouth. In contrast, using mouthwash to rinse your mouth -- voluntarily -- can be a healthy step, according to a study in the Journal of Medical Virology. It KO’s the virus that causes COVID-19. 

Researchers tested a wide range of mouthwashes, such as Crest Pro Health (active ingredient cetylpyridium chloride -- safe and effective but shouldn’t be used for more than seven days according to a 1994 FDA report) and Listerine Antiseptic (active ingredients eucalyptol, menthol, methyl salicylate and thymol). They also looked at hydrogen-peroxide-based mouthwashes. They found Crest Pro Health killed off at least 99.9% of the virus in the mouth; Listerine Antiseptic killed more than 99.99% and peroxide brands knocked out slightly less. Overall, the researchers say, “Most of the common over-the-counter mouthwashes/gargles tested demonstrated at least a 90% reduction in infectious virus at one minute of contact time.” And the longer you rinse the more KO power they have.

So if you’re looking to make sure you’re doing all you can to keep COVID-19 at bay, here’s one more effective technique to complement mask wearing and social distancing.

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