Is mammography advice falling on deaf ears?

Only about 6% of women age 40 and older have had the American Cancer Society's recommended mammograms performed annually over a 10 year period, according to the largest study to date to examine use of the life-saving exam.

Researchers found that the vast majority of women in this age group received half the recommended number of mammograms in that time period—just five. This is despite the fact that women who are screened annually and are diagnosed with breast cancer die from the disease half as often as those who don't.

Poor women, those without health insurance, and those from non-white racial and ethnic groups are least likely to adhere to an annual schedule, while those between the ages of 55 and 65 years and those who have previously had breast cancer are more likely. But the study found that no group of women consistently used the technology as often as they should.

While the solution to this compliance problem is probably multi-faceted, the researchers point out that more than 100 studies have proven that postal and telephone reminders can improve the compliance rate.

Blanchard K, Colbert JA, Puri D, et al. Mammographic screening: patterns of use and estimated impact on breast carcinoma survival. Cancer. Online June 21, 2004.

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