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Women's Health

Fewer Women Getting Mammograms

Decline May Lead to More Late-Stage Cancers
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

May 14, 2007 -- Fewer American women are getting mammograms, with usage rates dropping the most among those who have traditionally been most likely to be screened for breast cancer.

After rising steadily during the 1990s, mammography screening rates leveled off after 2000 and began to decline about 2003, according to a new report from the National Cancer Institute.

Between 2000 and 2005, usage dropped by roughly 7% among women between the ages of 50 to 64 and 4% among women over 65.

The decline has coincided with a dramatic drop in breast cancer cases, leading to concern that some of the observed decline in incidence may be due to less screening.

If that is the case, an increase in breast cancers detected in their later, less-treatable stages can be expected within the next few years, says NCI economist Nancy Breen, PhD, one of the study researchers.

“We can’t say that this is what we will see yet, but we will be watching very carefully," Breen tells WebMD.

1 in 3 Women Aren’t Screened

The American Cancer Society recommends annual mammogram screenings for average-risk women aged 40 and older, while NCI guidelines call for screening every one to two years for women aged 40 and older.

Between 1987 and 2000, mammography screening rates jumped from 39% to 70% among eligible women 40 and over.

The new report, taken from a nationally representative survey of health trends, shows that 66% of eligible women were screened in 2005.

Breen says the change in direction is cause for concern but not yet cause for alarm.

“This is a heads up, but not a calamity at this point because the drop is pretty small,” she says. “We need to have a better understanding of the causes of the decline so that we can start to design interventions to address those causes.”

Access and Attitude

There is growing concern that women may have less access to mammography screening than they have had in the past because of a decline in mammography centers and radiologists specializing in breast cancer screening and an increase in the number of women in the U.S. who are uninsured or underinsured.

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