Fewer Women Getting Mammograms

Cancer Connect

A study published in the journal Cancer describes a worrying decline in the number of U.S. women age 40 or older who have had a mammogram in the last two years.

Breast cancer is diagnosed in over 200,000 women each year in the U.S. alone. Because the disease is highly curable when it is found and treated early, it is recommended that women 40 years of age or older undergo annual screening mammography.

During the period from 1987 to 2000, there was a steady increase in the use of screening mammography. This increase is believed to be partially responsible for the improvements in breast cancer survival that occurred during this time period.

To evaluate recent trends in mammography use, researchers at the National Cancer Institute evaluated information from the National Health Interview Survey. Every year, the survey is administered to approximately 35,000 U.S. adults. The current analysis focused on the proportion of women age 40 or older who reported having a mammogram in the previous two years.

  • Mammography use dropped between 2000 and 2005. In 2000, 70% of women age 40 or older reported that they had had a mammogram in the previous two years. In 2005, this number was 66%.
  • The decline in mammography use was most apparent among women between the ages of 50 and 64 years.

While the reasons for the drop in mammography use are still unclear, the decline may reverse recent improvements in breast cancer survival. In the short term, a drop in screening is likely to lead to a drop in the number of breast cancer diagnoses, because cancers that would normally be detected by screening will be missed. In the long term, this is expected to lead to an increase in breast cancer mortality, as these cancers are detected at a more advanced stage.

The authors of the current study raise the possibility that the recent decline in breast cancer incidence-which has been attributed primarily to reduced use of postmenopausal hormones-may be due at least in part to the drop in mammography use (and the cancers that are missed as a result of the drop in mammography). The researchers plan to continue to monitor trends in mammography use, and to explore reasons for the observed decline.

Women are encouraged to talk with their physicians about breast cancer screening recommendations.

Reference: Breen N, Cronin KA, Meissner HI et al. Reported drop in mammography. Cancer [early online publication]. May 14, 2007.

Related News:Guidelines Recommend Individualized Approach to Mammography for Women Age 40 to 49(4/10/2007)

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