Study: Only half of women over 40 get mammograms
December 9th, 2010
05:57 PM ET

Study: Only half of women over 40 get mammograms

A study released at a symposium by the American Association for Cancer Research finds that only half of women over age 40 get annual mammograms and only 60 percent are getting them every two years – despite the fact that mammograms are covered by health insurance.

That's just one of the findings being released at the symposium in San Antonio, TX this week.

For the mammogram study, Medco Health Solutions reviewed 4 years of medical claims by more than 12 million people who either had employer-provided insurance or Medicare.

Experts can't explain why fewer women are getting screened for breast cancer, but attribute some of it to the recent confusion over when women should start getting mammograms.  Last year the U.S. Preventive Task Force recommended that women get mammograms every other year starting at age 50 and that the decision for those aged 40 to 49 be based on risk and patient/doctor discussions.  However, the American Cancer Society and the Mayo Clinic continue to recommend yearly mammograms beginning at age 40.

The researchers suggest women may also be skipping their annual exams because of concerns about discomfort from the test or simply because they get busy and forget to put it on the calendar.

Another study looking at obese women with breast cancer shows that only a subset of patients may be at higher risk for recurrence and death because of their extra weight. Researchers have known for years that women with a high BMI – or body mass index – have lower survival rates from the disease, but this is the first time researchers have pinpointed which group of patients is at a higher risk. Breast cancers are not all the same. The most common and least deadly type affects about 50 to 60 percent of patients. The researchers found that women who fell into this group – referred to as ER-positive/HER2 negative – had about a 25 percent increase risk of relapse and nearly a 50 percent higher risk of death than women who are not obese.  Scientists don't know exactly why the risks are higher and say further study is needed.

Results of the much anticipated AZURE trial, which sought to determine if adding the osteoporosis drug Zoledronic Acid improves survival and decreases recurrence rates, were disappointing.  The study found no increase in survival rates for women with mid-stage breast cancer, according to researchers. The drug was used in combination with other cancer therapies. More than 3,300 women participated in the trial during a 5 year period.

"In the larger population, we did not see a difference," said study author Dr. Robert Coleman, professor of medical oncology at the University of Sheffield in England.

But in about a third of the older patients, who were 5 years post-menopausal, there was an almost 30 percent reduction in risk of dying from the disease. Researchers say further studies are needed to replicate these findings and that the results will likely dissuade doctors from using this treatment on a routine basis in younger women. About 1 percent of those in the study developed deterioration of the jaw bone.

soundoff (32 Responses)
  1. williamdawson@live.com

    You guys should stop complaining because, one the health care we have now isnt as good as it was supposed to be. also the law has just been signed so give it some time. so if u want to say u have the right to choose tell that to ur congress men or state official. If you do not have insurance and need one You can find full medical coverage at the lowest price check http://ow.ly/3akSX .If you have health insurance and do not care about cost just be happy about it and trust me you are not going to loose anything!

    December 10, 2010 at 00:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. valjean

    One has to question the impetus behind the concern over the drop in mammogram testing – is it actually out of concern for women's health or is it fueled by a need to process an ever-increasing # of ridiculously painful tests to support the medical machine? At 61 I have a strong urge to end any and all testing that causes me unnecessary pain – and mammograms are far more than a discomfort. A few decades of a disrupted schedule, inflicted pain is enough.

    December 10, 2010 at 07:41 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Kelly

      Are you kidding me? Are you really advocating that people bypass 'painful' tests? Trust me, after being diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 24 because of a mammogram that I had to BEG to have delivered because I wasnt in the 'risk group (i.e. I was young, healthy weight, active, non-smoker with no family history) I tell everyone to fight for themselves. The double mastectomy, hyserectomy. year of chemo and other treatments, and heartache over not being able to ever have a child of my own were and continue to be far more painful than the mammogram was.

      December 10, 2010 at 13:05 | Report abuse |
    • Its all about the $$$$

      Testing for mammograms is important but I feel as do many others that every 2 years is WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY too much! The motive behind this is NOT helping people but as always, money. Exposing yourself to MORE radiation to test for cancer is absurd. It used to be every 10 years. Then 5. Now 2? What a crock! I think they know that cancer is big business in this country so the more that get it , the better.

      December 10, 2010 at 14:49 | Report abuse |
  3. bk

    I can only speak for myself as to why I don't get examined. In my mid-30's, I went for an exam and the doctor's felt something. I went thru around 6 months of tests, only to find out that because my exam was close to the date of my period, is why the doctors felt anything.

    Fast forward 5 years. I go for another exam. The doctor says he can't read anything from the mammogram. I'm directed to get some magnetic imaging. Still the doctor says he can't see anything because my breasts are too dense, and directs that I get a biopsy. Why am I getting an operation done if they can't see or know where to take a sample? Improve the testing procedures so unnecessary surgeries aren't done.

    December 10, 2010 at 08:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. babydoc Bobby

    Hi bk-
    I know that the testing can be annoying and inconvenient, but to let you know, the diagnostic tests you're sent for are probably for very important reasons.
    1- (and you hadn't mentioned this)... if you have a family member with breast cancer, your risk is higher
    2- detection of one lump can increase your risk of having another and/or reccurences
    3- (this is the big one)... By the time you or your doctor feels a lump, and it is determined to be cancer, that cancer has already grown past its halfway point... it will have divided more than 1000000000 times. Thats not an arbitrary number of zeros. Its 10 to the 9th power. The more divisions, the increased risk of metastasis. There is a reason for the tests, and alot of it is because the mamogram and MRI is MUCH more sensitive at picking up the mass BEFORE its grown.

    The tests are a pain, but breast cancer is second only to lung cancer in terms of female mortality.
    These tests are in a woman's best interest because the benefits far outweigh the risks and uncomfort.
    Take care!

    December 10, 2010 at 09:39 | Report abuse | Reply
    • WOW

      Obviously you work in the medical field and stand to benefit from all the excessive testing. We are not amused.

      December 10, 2010 at 15:05 | Report abuse |
    • babydoc Bobby

      are you kidding? No, obviously not. Hey, it's your perogative. Seriously, no one is FORCING you to get tested. Its a reccomendation. Chances are really really good that you won't get breast cancer. HOWEVER, on the off chance that you do, without screening, its going to be found at an advanced stage, and if that happens, recovery chances are next to nil. I'm not a salesman hawking kitchen utensils. Hell, Im still in school.
      PS... docs dont make money off expensive test orders. Your insurence company does.
      Again, feel free to not get tested, but please don't go around spreading false-logic and discouraging others from getting them. Reasons TO get them: numerous studies showing early detection = better prognosis and longer survival
      Reasons to avoid: paranoia

      Your choice

      December 10, 2010 at 15:42 | Report abuse |
    • notmyrealname

      You're right on the money, Bobby. Those who decide they're too cowardly or too busy or "too poor" (how do they afford a computer and have time to use it?) to get mammograms are making a choice. The complaint that the testing isn't exact enough to suit them is ridiculous. It's the best there is right now. You choose to stick your head in the sand and whine about your options? Too bad for you; that's what's here NOW. Get over yourselves. Your grandmothers would have been grateful to have such diagnostic tools available, ya spoiled little brats.

      December 10, 2010 at 18:44 | Report abuse |
  5. bk

    Nobody in my family has ever been diagnosed with breast cancer. I don't have any lumps in my breasts. In fact, cancer itself is very rare in both sides of my family tree. Most people died of strokes or heart attacks.

    December 10, 2010 at 09:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. AB

    They didn't mention another reason some women don't get mammograms – we don't care. I haven't had one nor a pap smear – ever and I don't intend to get one. Yes I know there's risk, what if it runs in the family, it's recomended etc etc. Bottom line is I actually don't feel the need to do it and don't care enough to worry about it. That's my choice and I'm not the only one but when they write articles like this the possibility that there are women out there who make a conscious choice to not have these exames is never explored.

    December 10, 2010 at 10:09 | Report abuse | Reply
    • notmyrealname

      That's because they know Darwin was right.

      December 10, 2010 at 18:38 | Report abuse |
  7. get real

    If you can't afford the hideous cost of treatment, why get the test? Insurance?? What a joke – one will still end up paying thousands for years. I can't come up with tens, much less thousands. The medical complex has priced itself out of reach for most. Once again, the rich rule and the rest of us can just go away.

    December 10, 2010 at 10:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Jean

    I have stopped getting mammograms after years of getting them faithfully. The reason I stopped at age 58 is that I'm just tired of my health insurance telling me it's ok for THAT test and not another I may need to save my life. It's ok for a colonoscopy every 5-10 years, but not something else that may save my life. So, I've taken my health back into my own hands. I know my body.

    December 10, 2010 at 10:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Chris

    In my personal opinion I believe that some of it is costs, I also believe that all of these places work together and I am not sure that it is all for the good of the people. You have all of these doctors affiliated with the hospitals, in many case these hospitals open up clinics for the doctors and control the practice. I think alot of times they recommend people have things done so they can make money. It is more than likely part of the agreement for doctors to come into the practice. That is just my opinion on how things are where I am from. I also believe that in many cases it is just plain fear of the possiblity that something could be wrong. That is my reason for the most part. I dont want to know. It seems these days that every time you turn around someone has been diagnosed with breast cancer. I have lost 2 co workers to it, I have had a co worker who has gone through chemo and radiation for it. I know 3 friends who have had their breasts removed because of it and a hysterectomy (just in case). My life is entirely too stressful and emotionally I dont think I could handle all of that. Once you get started on all the tests, the chemo, the radiation, you think all is well and boom it just went somewhere else. Then the rest of your life is all about being consumed by fighting to stay alive. Not sure thats how I want to spend the rest of my time. Consumed by fear and worry.

    December 10, 2010 at 12:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. teresa, ohio

    @Chris: i 100% agree with you on the COSTS. I am 49 and havent had health insurance for years, so paying for a test out of pocket isnt really an option for me unless I am almost dying. if I had insurance, I definitely would have gone in for the tests. I have a g/ f that has a lump in her breast and signed up to get a free mammo at local branch in Florida where she lives. They said they had given out all the free mammos they could that year and she would have to wait. We all say:" oh, what a tragedy, surely the person could have borrowed the money or gotten free help". I ask : FROM WHERE? lol

    At my age, I've lived an ok life... of course, no one wants to die, but I know that I would not have my breasts removed, I would not do chemo or radiation, and I dont think I would be missed. So no mammo is a good option for me.

    ALSO: I am not so sure that all these SAFE tests are really safe. While they might be good at detecting ONE thing, WHAT IF they actually cause another thing? No end to the craziness of it all.

    And for all the breast cancer survivors reading this: I am so very glad that you discovered your cancer and were able to get treatment and are alive !! : )

    December 10, 2010 at 12:32 | Report abuse | Reply

      Its not a coincidence that more people are getting sicker and the health care industry is getting richer. Is there money in it for the Cancer foundation and all people considered if you DONT get cancer? NOPE. Is it a shock that there are virtually no measures taken in preventative care unless its a test that can potentially ADD to the risk? NOPE.

      December 10, 2010 at 15:00 | Report abuse |
    • babydoc Bobby

      Thats just about the equivelent of saying that everytime you get hungry, its actually a conspiracy on the part of MacDonalds to drive you to their bigmacs.
      By what logic would you think that peoples illnesses are a conspiracy by the healthcare system to make money.

      December 10, 2010 at 15:46 | Report abuse |
    • notmyrealname

      I wonder how you'll feel about your choices when you face the pain of cancer. When your family has to watch you suffer and die.

      December 10, 2010 at 18:23 | Report abuse |
  11. Susan

    I have dense breasts, too, and each time I go, I have to go back for more and different pictures. MRI's give a better picture and are not painful, but the insurance companies won't pay for them. I'm 55, have had them every year since I was 40, but I'm skipping this year. I'm sick of it. I will still be dealing with retakes for months, scheduling appointments, and eventually I'll hear that everything is fine. Maybe I'll go next year, maybe not. I don't care anymore.

    December 10, 2010 at 13:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Caitlin

    Another vote in the camp that’s decided getting brutally squished and “handled” isn’t worth it. Haven’t had one, but by all accounts they’re awfully painful and now I cringe just seeing a picture of it being done. I don’t have risk factors but if I get BC, I get it. It’s a risk I’m willing to take, personally. I’m glad if it’s a success story for other people, but no preaching please. Sorry medicos you’ll have to come up with something better.vvvvv

    December 10, 2010 at 13:22 | Report abuse | Reply
    • notmyrealname

      Oh, please. I've had numerous mammograms and they are NOT painful. If you think you can't bear the "agony" you imagine you'll feel, you simpleton, contemplate how painful it is to die from cancer. Why do you think they put cancer patients on a morphine drip, darling?

      God, what stupidity.

      December 10, 2010 at 18:37 | Report abuse |
  13. Laura

    Maybe women are skipping their tests because their real income has dropped significantly over the last few years? Even if they are employed or on Medicare, their spouses are more likely to be unemployed than just a few years ago, and everything is so much more expensive.
    I personally can no longer afford to shop at Goodwill after they raised their prices by 50%......
    Much less a mammogram.

    December 10, 2010 at 17:35 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Laura

      On another note, nobody in my family ever got breast or cervical cancer.
      But there have been several heart attacks.
      Wouldn't it make sense to cover the things that run in your family?
      Oh wait that would be too logical....

      December 10, 2010 at 17:50 | Report abuse |
    • notmyrealname

      So you think breast cancer doesn't happen to people who don't have a history of it in their families? I hate to break it to you, but that's just not the case.

      December 10, 2010 at 18:21 | Report abuse |
  14. Olivia

    Here's why I'm never getting a mammogram again: When I was 41, before the age 50 recommendations came out, I went in for my first screening mammogram. My GYN did not discuss risks with me, and, at that time, the risks were not as out in the open as they are now. I got called in for a diagnostic after the screening mammogram: more radiation. Then, I was told to come in for a 6-month follow-up. The form letters provide NO information. After badgering my GYN for a month for information, she finally got back to me and told me that she had talked to "the radiologist" (since I was not allowed to), and I had "nothing to worry about." When I asked why I should have a 6-month follow up if I had "nothing to worry about," she said I didn't need to, I could come back in 2 years. So, I guess the CYA radiologist lied? I never went back for the follow-up. It's been nearly 2 years, and I haven't been back since. I worry about breast cancer all the time now, and I never did before. When the most important aspects of your health, your peace of mind and sense of well-being, are taken by the "health care" industry (and a hospital that professes to be a "Healing, Christian Environment"), what can you do? I'm 43, have always thought I was healthy (until the mammograms), and now I question whether I'll get much of any preventive care in the future. I definitely won't get any more mammograms. And I have health insurance. At some point, they'll admit that mammograms cause cancer anyway. Never, ever trust your doctor. Do your own research

    December 10, 2010 at 18:09 | Report abuse | Reply
    • notmyrealname

      Your post makes no sense. You have NO evidence that mammograms 'cause cancer' whatsoever, and you are beyond idiotic if you think I'd EVER listen to ANYONE who says "Never, ever trust your doctor." You tell people to do their own research, but you obviously aren't capable of doing yours. Stop attempting to give medical advice to others; unless you have an MD after your name, your under-qualified to do so.

      December 10, 2010 at 18:20 | Report abuse |
  15. notmyrealname

    The morons who are braying that "it's all about money" and "the more cancer people get, the better the profits for the healthcare industry" should exercise the two brain cells they possess and think about this: in your job, do you do crummy work so that your sector will make more money? If you repair cars, do you purposely do a shi**ty job so the car will break down sooner and the owner will have to fork over more money to you? Do you really think people in the healthcare sector WANT you to be sick?


    December 10, 2010 at 18:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Elle

    Kelly-i am so sorry to hear of your ordeal. the grief in your tone says it all. stories like yours are why i got a mammo this year. had no lumps, ate ok, and my 4 older sisters are well, but thank god for my gyno, who ordered me to get tested. something showed up&it doesn't look good. biopsy's in 4 days. i might lose my boobs and not have kids, but it ain't over till the fat lady sings, and then i'll kick her in the teeth. good luck kelly. elle

    December 10, 2010 at 19:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Elle

    By the way, i am mid-40's, so thank god i got this done before insurance guidelines are changed. it was my first mammo, and it didn't hurt and took all of what, 5 seconds per image to do. so i am begging othes women-please do not put getting a mammogram! do it! just do it! please! thanks for listening.

    December 10, 2010 at 22:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. hsr0601

    It is pretty clear to me that Breastfeeding is able to make children healthy, to say nothing of mothers.
    Breastfeeding must be what the breast is for, A Natural Law & god's order & the display of unconditional maternity.

    December 11, 2010 at 19:11 | Report abuse | Reply
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    December 12, 2010 at 20:21 | Report abuse | Reply

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