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Older Women Not Getting Needed Mammograms

And minority women receive fewer screenings than whites, study finds

TUESDAY, June 20, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Older American women are not getting as many mammograms as they say -- or think -- they are, new research finds. The study also found that black, Asian-American and Hispanic women are receiving even fewer screenings than white women.

While experts say it's no surprise that women remember having more mammograms than they actually do, the findings do have troubling policy implications.

"When we are making policy decisions [on breast-cancer screening], simply asking people is not enough," said Dr. Christopher Kagay, lead author of the study and a radiology resident at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

Annual mammograms to detect possible tumors are recommended for women aged 40 and over. Breast cancer is the second leading cancer killer among women in the United States. The odds of developing breast cancer increase as a woman gets older.

Overall, breast-cancer screening rates have risen over the past 15 years, but they have dipped during the last five.

For the new study, which appears in the August issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, the investigators analyzed Medicare claims data on 146,669 women in 11 metropolitan areas around the country. These statistics were then compared with what the women themselves had reported.

Seventy percent to 80 percent of women aged 65 to 69 reported getting at least one mammogram every two years. But the data showed that only 61.1 percent of the women actually received regular screening, with the lowest rates among black, Asian-American and Hispanic women.

Overall, the biennial screening rate in 2000-2001 was 50.6 percent for non-Hispanic white women, 40.5 percent for black women, 34.7 percent for Asian-American women, 36.3 percent for Hispanic women and only 12.5 percent for Native-American women.

According to Dr. Alan Astrow, director of hematology/oncology at Maimonides Medical Center in New York City, it's not unusual for patients to think they are taking better care of themselves than they actually are, whether it's pills, screening or other procedures. One possible limitation of this study, he added, is that the researchers can't be sure that the Medicare claims data and the ensuing analysis tell the full story.

But for Kagay, the results point up the need to keep hammering home awareness and education messages regarding breast-cancer screening.

"The data is important for people who are basically interested in asking, 'Are we meeting our goals for getting elderly women screened?' And that can range from an individual doctor evaluating his own practice patterns to a policy maker trying to allocate money for public-health resources," Kagay said.

More information

For more on breast cancer, head to the American Cancer Society.

SOURCES: Christopher Kagay, M.D., resident, department of radiology, Massachusetts General Hospital, and clinical fellow, Harvard Medical School, Boston; Alan Astrow, M.D., director of hematology/oncology, Maimonides Medical Center, New York City; August 2006, American Journal of Preventive Medicine
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