Komen for the Cure

Study: Fewer Women Get Breast Cancer Screenings

Posted May 28, 2007

For decades, doctors have been pushing the importance of regular mammographies. In the 1990s, most women heeded their advice and got the breast cancer test, but a study suggests that trend has recently started to change.

Marsha Jones-Harry is vigilant about getting a mammogram every year. She said she has a good reason.

"My mom had breast cancer in her mid-50s and she passed away 10 years later," Jones-Harry said.

Annual mammography is key for people with a family history and for all women over 40, but a study published in the Journal of the American Cancer Society reveals a troubling trend. In just the past few years, the percentage of women getting regular screening has dropped significantly.

"I think it's very disturbing that the rates have gone down," said Dr. Sharon Rosenbaum-Smith, of St. Luke-Roosevelt Hospital.

The recent fall comes after an impressive rise. Starting in 1987, mammography rates for women 40 and older shot up from 39 percent to 70 percent by the year 2000, but since then the percentage has declined by 4 percent.

While four percent may not sound like a lot, it means millions of women are missing tests. The drop in screening could lead to an increase in breast cancer deaths.

"Screening mammography can detect breast cancer at an earlier and more treatable stage," Rosenbaum-Smith said.

Rosenbaum-Smith and other experts said the cause for the downward trend is not clear. Some experts said an increase in the number of uninsured women and a decline in the number of screening centers are part of the problem.

"I really don't think those play a strong enough role to say why the rates of mammograms have gone down," Rosenbaum-Smith said.

While science searches for answers, Marsha knows she's part of the solution.

5 Comments

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  • WXYZ May 30, 2007

    The era of "Evidence Based" healthcare began several years ago. Thereby physicians and other licensed healthcare professionals are under ever increasing pressure to recommend tests and treatments which are verified and justified via rigorous, scientific research. Therefore, many physicians, women and especially health insurance companies, are surely reading the research reports, most of which state that ~93% of mammograms are negative. Then, the remaining ~7% of positive mammograms are usually followed by a biopsy, of which about 50-70% are negative. I would guess that insurance companies and M.D.'s want to increase the cost-effectiveness of mammograms, by doing more thorough screening prior to ordering tests, so as to assure that women with a higher level of risk factors are put "at the front of the line" for getting mammograms. As with other hard to detect conditions, one should learn and heed "risk factors", when deciding if expensive medical tests are truly needed.

  • CestLaVie May 29, 2007

    When I think of a mammogram, the FIRST thing I think about it is the pain - it downright hurts to have it done if you are of any generous size at all. I'd say this is a real discouragement for many to put it off. I do have it done though, I must say.

  • littleredwolfie May 28, 2007

    Taxpayer...if you or someone you know has a job but is uninsured, please, please tell them to call Alliance Medical Ministry on New Bern Avenue (beside WakeMed). Alliance was started by a member of First United Methodist Church in Cary (where I am also a member). The clinic is always staffed (some doctors, medical students, nurses, etc. volunteer their services). Alliance is supported by area churches and businesses. The only requirements (for being seen at the clinic) are being employed with no medical insurance. The telephone number for Alliance is 250-3320. If that is all that is holding anyone back from getting medical treatment, I hope they will make that call.

  • Taxpayer May 28, 2007

    When a mobile unit comes by for a screening, that's good news for uninsured people. The problem is when they have to pay for someone to read the results.

  • littleredwolfie May 28, 2007

    This is very disheartening. However, I can think of several factors that might contribute to this. First, mammograms are painful...certain things were not meant to be flattened. Secondly, most insurance companies will pay for a mammogram, however; if findings are suspicious and a second mammogram is needed, that's on you...insurance companies will not pay for that one. I believe there has to be a better way. However, until that time, I urge all women to get a mammogram. A mammogram can be the difference between life and death. I know it was for me. Several years ago, I went for a mammogram. I thought it was pretty routine and almost cancelled the appointment...but, what I thought "routine" ended with a bilateral mastectomy. I thank God that I did not cancel that appointment that day. So, I urge you, ladies, to do it for yourselves and those that you love. You'll be glad you did. :-)