Do women understand mammograms?


A new report finds that many women are unaware that health insurers are required to cover yearly mammograms. A high rate of “false alarms” contributes to women’s mixed feelings about mammography screening.

How do women feel about mammograms? What prevents some women from receiving the screening?

A newly published report from the Society for Women’s Health Research, which surveyed more than 3000 women aged 18 years or older, provides some key insights. One of the most important was that a sizeable majority of the women (68%) did not know or believe that the Affordable Care Act requires health insurance companies to cover the screenings, with no financial burden on the patient. 

While most of the women (78%) responded that they strongly believe that mammograms are important, more than half of them (64%) indicated that they lack an adequate understanding of the benefit of undergoing the screening. The recommendation of a healthcare provider was the most significant reason for scheduling a mammogram for 56% of the women. Meanwhile, roughly 46% of the women reported that they did not schedule annual mammogram screenings.


Nearly half of the women said that they had been asked to come back for futher testing, causing stress and alarm.


The cost of screening and a lack of insurance were considered to be the biggest barriers to annual screening. Sixty percent of women with a household income of more than $50,000 reported that they had an “annual or better” rate of mammogram screening, while just 49% of women with an income of less than $50,000 reported an annual or better rate of mammogram screening. Just 23% of women who were uninsured reported an annual or better rate of mammography screening, while 57% of insured women reported the same rate. Non-medical costs, such as the cost to travel for screening, were also considered to be a factor in whether a woman had a mammogram.

Nearly half of the women (47%) said that they had been asked to come back for further testing, causing stress and alarm. Of those called back, the initial abnormal results were determined to be a “false alarm” in 89% of cases. So it’s no surprise that 81% of women want mammograms that provide better detection and 82% want screenings that reduce the chance of being called back.

A sizeable majority (88%) said that 3D mammography should be covered by insurance companies. Two-thirds of the women said that they might consider switching insurance companies if the new company offered coverage for the technology. 


Society for Women’s Health Research. What women want: Expectations and experiences in breast cancer screening. Accessed October 28, 2014.

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