Many Women Don't Get Recommended Mammograms
Nearly a Third Never Get Them or Don't Return
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."
The overall use of mammogram screening in the study was 64% -- almost 20% lower than another study done in New Hampshire during the same period that relied on patient self-reporting.
But Debbie Saslow, PhD, of the American Cancer Society tells WebMD that the new figures seem to be in line with the national data.
"We believe that the number of eligible women who have regular mammography screenings is between 65% and 70%," she says.
About a third of the women evaluated in the New Hampshire study who had had a mammogram did not continue to have them regularly. The researchers concluded that more research is needed to better understand why so many women don't continue the practice. But Saslow says one main deterrent is obvious.