Fewer women in their 40s are getting mammograms, apparently as a result of controversial federal recommendations issued three years ago against routine breast-cancer screening for those under 50.
A new analysis by the Mayo Clinic indicates mammography rates among women in their 40s have dropped nearly 6 percent nationwide since the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force issued its recommendations in 2009.
Researchers, who presented their findings at the Academy Health Annual Research Meeting in Orlando, said the change represents a small but significant decrease since the controversial guidelines were released.
"The 2009 USPSTF guidelines resulted in significant backlash among patients, physicians and other organizations, prompting many medical societies to release opposing guidelines," said Nilay Shah, a researcher at the Mayo Clinic Center for the Science of Health Care Delivery. "We were interested in determining the impact that the recommendations and subsequent public debate had upon utilization of mammography in younger women."
For the study, Shah and colleagues tracked a national database of 100 health plans to determine the number of mammograms performed between January 2006 and December 2010. They compared rates before and after the task force report. Nearly 8 million women, ages 40 to 64, were included in the analysis.
Researchers found a 5.72 percent decrease in the mammography rate for women ages 40-49 after the recommendations were made. That amounts to about 54,000 fewer mammograms per year.
The American Cancer Society and the Mayo Clinic continue to recommend an annual mammogram for women beginning at age 40, as well as a clinical breast exam performed by a healthcare provider.
The researchers noted mammograms can detect breast abnormalities early, citing a recent study in Sweden of more than 1 million women that found a 29 percent decline in breast cancer deaths among women in their 40s who received screenings.
"Screening mammography is not a perfect exam, but it is the best available tool to detect cancer early," said Dr. Sandhya Pruthi, director of Mayo Clinic's Breast Clinic. "Early detection can lead to better options and possibly less-aggressive treatments."