Many Women Not Getting Recommended Breast Cancer Screening

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Recently, there's been a lot of debate about when women should start regular breast cancer screening. While the debate continues, it's clear that many women who should be getting screened under current guidelines aren't.

The very large National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) has found that screening rates for colon, breast, and cervical cancer are lower than they should be. More than 40,000 households including nearly 100,000 people participated in NHIS. The research is in the Jan. 27, 2012 issue of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Review, published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The NHIS found that among people who should have been screened based on current guidelines, only:

  • 59% were screened for colon cancer
  • 72% were screened for breast cancer
  • 83% were screened for cervical cancer

The research also found that screening rates varied based on racial and ethnic background. Recommended screening was less likely among Asian Americans and Hispanic Americans.

For example, recommended breast cancer screening was done in:

  • 73% of white and African American women
  • 70% of Hispanic women
  • 64% of Asian American women (screening was least likely among Asian women of Chinese descent)

It's likely that many factors contribute to people not getting screened for cancer as recommended. These may include cost and access to care, fear of screening and the possibility of a cancer diagnosis, and other cultural biases about cancer and screening. Still, much research shows that screening for cancer can lead to earlier diagnoses, better prognoses, and lives saved. recommends that if you're 40 or older and have an average risk of breast cancer, yearly screening mammograms should be part of your healthcare. If your breast cancer risk is higher than average, you should talk to your doctor about a more aggressive breast cancer screening plan that makes the most sense for your particular situation.

There's only one of you and you deserve the best care possible. Don't let any obstacles get in the way of your regular screening mammograms:

  • If you're worried about cost, talk to your doctor, a local hospital social worker, or staff members at a mammogram center. Ask about free programs in your area.
  • If you're having problems scheduling a mammogram, call the National Cancer Institute (800-4-CANCER) or the American College of Radiology (800-227-5463) to find certified mammogram providers near you.
  • If you find mammograms painful, ask the mammography center staff members how the experience can be as easy and as comfortable as possible for you.

Screening for colon cancer and cervical cancer is very important too, so be sure to talk to your doctor about screening plans for those cancers that make the most sense for you.

The article on screening in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report is available online.

For more information about breast cancer screening, visit the Screening and Testing pages.

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