Women across age, racial and socioeconomic spectrums underutilize the recommended annual breast cancer screening, effectively reducing the life-saving benefits of annual mammography.
According to a study published June 21, 2004 in the online edition of CANCER, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society, only about one in twenty women consistently utilized annual mammography over ten years and received the mortality benefits of screening mammography. The full study is available via Wiley InterScience.
Annual screening mammography has been demonstrated to improve survival but must be done promptly every year. Studies show few women actually get annual screening mammograms in the near or long-term. But a detailed characterization of who utilizes serial screening mammography and how missing annual screening impacts actual breast cancer survival has not been as well studied.
Dr. James Michaelson of the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and colleagues from both MGH and the Harvard Medical School reviewed data from 72,417 women who received screening mammograms at the MGH Avon Comprehensive Breast Center from 1985 to 2002. They analyzed the data for trends within subgroups based on race, age, prior history of breast cancer and socioeconomic status and used a computer simulation model of breast cancer to estimate the health consequences of various usages of screening.
Overall, only 6 percent of women utilized ten mammograms. The median number of mammograms received was only five. More important, an analysis based on age, race, socioeconomic status and past history of breast cancer, found no single group completed all ten recommended screenings. Disparities in usage were found according to race and socioeconomic status with Hispanic, African-American, and Asian women as well as women from lower economic status receiving fewer mammograms.
Having regular mammograms was clearly found to reduce the risk of death from breast cancer. Among women who were diagnosed with invasive breast cancer, women who had prompt annual mammograms have a lower risk of death (11.97 percent) than women who received five mammograms in ten years (16.01 percent) or once every five years (25.26 percent).
In short, the authors conclude, "the data reported here reveal that the widespread failure of many women to attend screening regularly occurs to a degree that is likely to reduce the life-sparing potential of screening."