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6 of 10 Women Get 1st Mammogram by Age 40

Most Women Start Breast Cancer Screening by Age 40, but Others Lag Behind

WebMD Health News

Sept. 13, 2004 -- A new study shows most women get their first mammogram by age 40, but certain women are far more likely to put off starting breast cancer screening using mammography than others.

Researchers found six out of 10 women had their first mammogram by age 40, as recommended by the American Cancer Society and other major health organizations to reduce the risk of death due to breast cancer, and nearly nine out of 10 had their first mammogram by age 50.

But the study also shows that many groups of women, such as those who lack insurance or don't speak English, lag behind in using mammograms, and few women follow up their first mammogram with annual breast cancer screening.

"These findings suggest that there is little to be gained from population-wide efforts to encourage entry into the screening process, and that public health efforts should be focused on those subpopulations of women at highest risk for not using screening," write researcher James Colbert, of Massachusetts General Hospital, and colleagues.

The results appear in the Sept. 13 online edition of the journal Cancer.

Some Women Late in Starting Mammograms

In the study, researchers looked at mammography use among 72,417 women who received mammograms from Jan. 1, 1985, to Feb. 19, 2002, at the Massachusetts General Hospital.

Researchers found that the average age for the first mammogram for the women in the study was 40.4 years.

But the study showed that certain groups of women also tended to delay getting their first mammogram:

  • Women who did not speak English began screening at age 49, nine years later than women who did speak English.
  • Women who did not have private health insurance began at age 46, six years later than women with private health insurance.
  • Women who did not speak English and did not have private health insurance did not start screening until age 55, fifteen years later than their counterparts.
  • Women without a primary care doctor began screening at age 42, more than a year and a half later than women with a primary care doctor.
  • African-American, Hispanic, and obese women began mammography as much as a year and a half later compared with white and normal-weight women.

A previous analysis of these data by the same researchers showed that of women who had their first mammogram at Massachusetts General Hospital in 1996, only 16% went on to have five subsequent mammograms over the next five years. But more than 35% received one or two mammograms during this five-year period.

"Thus, the findings reported in the current study and in our previous publication suggest that the public health need to find ways to encourage women to start screening may be less critical than the need to find ways to encourage them to return promptly once they have begun screening," write the researchers.

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