A new government study reveals that fewer women are undergoing annual mammographies for various reasons, including difficulties in obtaining appointments, and the drop in hormone use following menopause (Good news, hormone users received more regular medical care — bad news according to a 2002 government study hormone use increases the risk of breast cancer, heart attack, and stroke.” At least in the FEHB Program, the cost of the test is not an issue as the Program provides 100% coverage for routine annual mammographies for the over 40 age group. However, the Washington Post notes that “the drop was greatest — 6.8 percent — among women ages 50 to 64, the age group most likely to benefit.” The Post report quotes Carolina Hinestrosa of the National Breast Cancer Coalition, an advocacy group, as commenting “Some women are beginning to balance the risks and the benefits. If women are making a careful determination and an informed decision after weighing the risks and benefits, I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing.” Other commentators and researchers take a less nuanced view of the study.
The American Cancer Society quotes lead researcher Nancy Breen, Ph. D., of the National Cancer Institute:
Whatever the cause, the drop in mammography rates is worrisome, Breen adds. She and her group are trying to develop new studies that could shed light on why mammogram use is declining. “We really need to know why it is that screening isn’t happening before we can talk about developing strategies that are going to work [to raise levels again],” she notes. However, at least one strategy has already been proven to help boost screening rates: reminder systems. People are more likely to get screened if they get a phone call or card or email reminding them to make that appointment. Another thing that could help, Breen says, is to keep the message about screening front and center. “We can’t assume that people who have been screening will continue to screen, and we need to continue to make it clear that this is of benefit to them,” she says.”