WASHINGTONOlder American women are more aware of mammography
and are using the procedure for breast cancer screening in increasing
numbers, but ignorance and misconceptions about mammography persist,
according to a new survey.
The telephone survey of a nationally representative sample of 814
women age 65 and older was conducted by the National Cancer Institute
and the Health Care Financing Administration (HCFA) in the spring of
1999. Among its findings:
More than one third of the women were less concerned about breast
cancer now that they were over age 65 than when they were younger,
even though the risk of the disease increases with age.
Of those surveyed, 88% had had at least one mammogram in their
lifetime, an increase of 25% from a similar survey in 1992 by AARP
(American Association of Retired Persons). Among the women surveyed,
70% had received their most recent mammogram within the previous 2
years, up from 35% in the AARP poll.
Only 57% of the women knew about the recommendation that women have a
screening mammogram every year or two starting at age 40. Minority
women were twice as likely as white women20% vs 11%to say
they did not know the age at which to begin screening mammograms.
Half of the women had received their mammograms as part of
routine preventive care, and 34% said a physician or other health
care professional had recommended the screening test to them.
Women who had never had a mammogram were the most likely to
feel that they did not need one and/or to say that a doctor had not
Of those surveyed, 77% knew that Medicare covers the cost of
screening mammograms, but only 58% had used their Medicare coverage
to obtain one. Again, minorities were less likely than whites to be
aware of the Medicare mammography benefit, by a margin of 29% to 17%.
These findings indicate once again that misconceptions about
breast cancer risk and the potential benefit from regular breast
cancer screening are prevalent among older women, said Leslie
Ford, MD, associate director for clinical research in the NCIs
Division of Cancer Prevention.
The survey was conducted to help NCI and HCFA evaluate current
mammography education programs and identify areas needing additional
Last year, the NCI and HCFA formed a partnership to raise awareness
of the need for regular mammography screening among women aged 65 and
older and of the expanded mammography screening benefit for Medicare
beneficiaries. Previous educational efforts have primarily targeted
women younger than 65. The partnership is also attempting to increase
the number of providers who refer female Medicare beneficiaries for
screening mammograms. The NCI and HCFA will work with professional
medical organizations to increase awareness among providers and will
develop materials that facilitate communication between providers and
patients about mammography and breast cancer.