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Friday, December 10, 2010
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.