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Mammography Use Up, But Not Perfect

Having a personal doctor raises odds of getting screened, study found

FRIDAY, July 1, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- The use of mammography by women aged 40 and older is increasing but is still not perfect, according to a new study.

"Women who don't have a primary-care doctor, who don't have health insurance or who don't get preventive medical care are much less likely to get a mammogram" than women who do, said co-researcher Kirsten Barrett, an assistant professor in the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond.

The American Cancer Society estimates that more than 211,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in 2005 in the United States, along with nearly 58,500 cases of noninvasive breast cancer. The group now recommends that all women aged 40 and older undergo annual screening mammography to detect malignancy early.

Barrett coauthored the study, published in the July/August issue of the American Journal of Health Promotion, with Jeffrey Legg, an assistant professor of radiation sciences at Virginia Commonwealth.

The two drew on data from a national survey of nearly 94,000 women responding to the 2002 Behavior Risk Factor Surveillance Survey.

They report that 76.4 percent of women aged 40 and over living in the United States had mammograms within the two previous years.

According to Barrett, that percentage already exceeds the target set by the federal government's Healthy People 2010 initiative, which calls for a mammography rate of 70 percent by the year 2010.

Still, certain subgroups remain less likely to get screened. Slightly more than 48 percent of women without a personal doctor or health-care provider reported having had mammogram within the past two years, while nearly 80 percent of women with their own doctor or health-care provider did so.

Black women were slightly more likely than were white women to have undergone mammography, with 78 percent of black women vs. 77 percent of whites having had the screen within the past two years. That's an improvement over data from previous years, when minority women tended to have lower screening rates than their white peers.

Older women and women with a personal doctor, health insurance and higher incomes were the most likely to have gotten a mammogram within the past two years, the researchers found.

Legg and Barrett agreed the findings weren't that surprising.

"The data are good data," added Susan J. Curry, director of the Institute for Health Research and Policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago and an expert on the topic. "The study itself is very encouraging."

All of the experts said that women who don't have health insurance should be made aware of initiatives such as the Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program, which can help them get the mammograms they need.

Some community-based health centers also have sliding scales for payment of mammograms and other exams, Legg said. And she noted that efforts to get women aged 40 and over screened increase in intensity every October, which is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

More information

To learn more about the Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program, visit the CDC.

SOURCES: Kirsten Barrett, Ph.D., assistant professor, L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond; Jeffrey Legg, Ph.D., assistant professor, radiation sciences, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond: Susan J. Curry, Ph.D., director, Institute for Health Research and Policy, University of Illinois at Chicago; July/August 2005 American Journal of Health Promotion
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