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Breast Cancer Health Center

Many Women Don't Get Recommended Mammograms

Nearly a Third Never Get Them or Don't Return
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WebMD Health News

Sept. 12, 2005 -- The number of American women being screened regularly for breast cancer may be lower than has been previously thought.

An examination of a New Hampshire-based registry found that about one in three eligible women had never had a mammogram or had not had one in more than two years.

Most experts agree that women aged 40 and over should get regular mammograms. The National Cancer Institute recommends screening either annually or every two years. The American Cancer Society calls for annual screening.

Experts recommend regular mammograms in order to catch breast cancer at an early stage -- when treatment is more likely to lead to a cure. Many experts also recommend breast self-exams monthly along with annual physician exams to help detect any breast lumps that may be cancerous.

Mammograms Decline With Age

Previous studies assessing the use of mammography screening have largely relied on patient self-reporting.

In an effort to get a more accurate picture of mammography use in the community, researchers from Dartmouth Medical School compared data from a New Hampshire screening registry to 2000 census figures for the state.

They found that 36% of women aged 40 and over had either never had a mammogram or had not had the test in more than two years.

Just two out of three women who had had a mammogram continued to be screened regularly, with twice as many of these women opting for annual screening than screening every two years.

Only about one in five women aged 80 and over continued to get regular mammograms.

Age alone should not be a reason to stop having regular mammograms, according to the American Cancer Society. As long as a woman is in good health and would be a candidate for treatment, she should continue to be screened with mammography, they say.

The study is to be published in the Oct. 15 issue of the journal Cancer.

Drop-Out Rate High

Researcher Patricia A. Carney, PhD, and colleagues concluded that "routine mammography screening may be occurring less often than believed when survey data alone are used."

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