Study: Half of women over 40 get annual mammograms

Dec 09, 2010 By MARILYNN MARCHIONE , AP Medical Writer

(AP) -- Remember the uproar last year when a government task force said most women don't need annual mammograms? It turns out that only half of women over 40 had been getting them that often to start with, even when they have insurance that covers screening.

The information comes from a review of insurance claims that show what women actually do - not what they say in surveys.

"We all support many things - fast food isn't what we should eat for dinner every night - but that isn't what we do," said Dr. Milayna Subar of Medco Health Solutions Inc., which manages benefits for many large insurers, including some Medicare plans.

She did the study, using records on more than 1.5 million women, and reported results Thursday at a breast cancer conference.

The finding is disturbing, said Dr. Judy Garber of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston and president-elect of the American Association for Cancer Research, one of the conference's sponsors. "Here's an insured population where cost is not a barrier," and yet many women are not getting tested.

Rates of screening are likely even lower among women without insurance, though government programs pay for mammograms for many women who lack such coverage.

Mammograms are of the breast that can reveal tumors when they're too small to be felt. But they also raise many false alarms, leading to worry, expense and overtreatment. How often and when women should get mammograms has long been controversial.

In November 2009, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force said women in their 40s at average risk for cancer do not need mammograms and that women 50 and older need them only every two years. Many groups, including the American Cancer Society, still advise annual mammograms starting at 40.

Everyone agrees that the age group that most benefits from mammograms is women 50 to 64, and the government estimates that roughly three-quarters of women in this age group had a mammogram within in the previous two years, based on surveys.

However, the review of insurance claims from 2006 through 2009 put the true number at 65 percent. It also found that only 54 percent of women in this age group had been getting mammograms every year.

Among all women 40 to 85, only half had been getting annual , the study found.

Doctors will not be surprised by these results, said Dr. Peter Ravdin of the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, one of the organizers of the cancer conference. Women forget or lose track of when they last had a mammogram, and that's one of the downsides of advice not to go every year, he said. Some may even lie when asked how often they go.

"There's both a conscious and mostly unconscious desire to please the person asking that question," because most women know they should be getting one, Ravdin said.

Dr. Marisa Weiss, a 51-year-old Philadelphia breast cancer specialist who founded the consumer Web site breastcancer.org, is glad she had been following her own advice to get screened every year. She was diagnosed in April with found through a routine mammogram.

"It was a very favorable diagnosis and I feel very lucky about that. I was a true beneficiary of early detection," she said.

If she'd followed advice to get screened just every two years, it could have meant "a real difference in my prognosis," Weiss said.

Explore further: Chronic inflammation linked to 'high-grade' prostate cancer

More information:
Cancer conference: http://www.sabcs.org

Mammogram information: http://tinyurl.com/cdccancer

not rated yet
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Most women do not get recommended mammograms

Dec 09, 2010

Only half of eligible women in the United States are getting their annual mammograms, even if they have insurance to pay for the procedure, according to data presented at the 33rd Annual CTRC-AACR San Antonio Breast Cancer ...

Sebelius: Women should get mammograms by age 40

Nov 18, 2009

(AP) -- Women should continue getting regular mammograms starting at age 40, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Wednesday, moving to douse confusion caused by a task-force recommendation ...

Experts debate merits of breast cancer screening

Mar 26, 2010

(AP) -- Are doctors overtreating breast cancer? At a breast cancer conference Friday in Barcelona, experts discussed how to implement mammogram screening programs across Europe, balancing fighting cancer ...

Recommended for you

Unraveling the 'black ribbon' around lung cancer

Apr 17, 2014

It's not uncommon these days to find a colored ribbon representing a disease. A pink ribbon is well known to signify breast cancer. But what color ribbon does one think of with lung cancer?

User comments : 0

More news stories

Filipino tests negative for Middle East virus

A Filipino nurse who tested positive for the Middle East virus has been found free of infection in a subsequent examination after he returned home, Philippine health officials said Saturday.

Study says we're over the hill at 24

(Medical Xpress)—It's a hard pill to swallow, but if you're over 24 years of age you've already reached your peak in terms of your cognitive motor performance, according to a new Simon Fraser University study.

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...

Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped ...

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...

Airbnb rental site raises $450 mn

Online lodging listings website Airbnb inked a $450 million funding deal with investors led by TPG, a source close to the matter said Friday.