Women over 70 could be getting overdiagnosed for breast cancer, a new study finds.

Researchers looked at 54,635 women who had breast cancer screenings after the age of 70. Among them, 31% of women aged 70 to 74 years who received a breast cancer diagnosis via screening were potentially overdiagnosed. In women 75 to 84 years old, about 47% had been potentially overdiagnosed. Women who were 85 and older were most likely to receive an overdiagnosis, as 54% were diagnosed.  

“Overdiagnosis refers to this phenomenon where we find breast cancers on screening that never would have become clinically apparent,” Ilana Richman, MD the lead author of the study and an assistant professor of medicine at the Yale School of Medicine, explained to CNN.

“The breast cancers are real, true cancers under the microscope, but they would have laid dormant in a person’s body and never caused symptoms,” she added. “We wouldn’t have known about that had we not gone looking.”

One issue the authors say they didn’t see were reductions in deaths from breast cancer due to screening. Doctors should consider the prospect of overdiagnosis when they order screening tests, and look at benefits as well, Richman commented.

Women are supposed to start breast cancer screenings when they’re 40. The US Preventive Services Task Force recently called for more research on whether or not to screen women over the age of 75 for breast cancer.

“For women who are getting into the upper age range or women who have lots of other serious medical conditions that are also taking up a lot of time and deserve attention, it’s unlikely that mammography is going to be the thing that is most beneficial to that person’s health,” Richman said.

The study is published in Annals of Internal Medicine.