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Only half of insured women get yearly mammograms: study

by Brendon Nafziger, DOTmed News Associate Editor | December 10, 2010
Only half of women over age 40 go in for a yearly mammogram, even if the procedure is covered by insurance, according to a new study.

The findings were presented Thursday at San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium.

Researchers led by Dr. Milayna Subar said they examined 1.6 million records of women from 2006 to 2009 provided by Medco Health Solutions, a Franklin Lakes, N.J. insurance company which sponsored the study and where Subar works. The women all had insurance from Medicare or their jobs.

The study found that the youngest and oldest women in the study had the lowest rates of getting yearly exams. About 47 percent of women aged 40-49 had a yearly mammogram, and only 45 percent of those 65 and older received an annual exam. The highest rates were seen among women 50 to 65, at 54 percent.

Around 60 percent of the women had roughly two screenings over the four-year study period, Subar said.

The researchers didn't investigate what was causing the women to skip the exams, but they said it was possible the women were concerned about discomfort, or simply too busy to schedule the tests.

Subar said the results were especially intriguing over the furor that greeted the recommendations from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force last year. The organization controversially suggested women get mammograms once every other year, instead of once a year, as advised by most cancer groups. The task force also suggested most women shouldn't be screened in their 40s.

"Women reacted strongly to that recommendation with protests about their right to have an annual mammogram that should not be taken away," Subar said in a press release. "Interestingly though, we found that a large percentage of women do not get regular mammograms."