WASHINGTON - After rising steadily for decades, the proportion of U.S. women getting mammograms to screen for breast cancer has dropped, federal researchers report in a study published online today.
The share of women older than 40 undergoing regular mammograms fell 4 percentage points from 2000 to 2005, the first significant decline since use of the breast X-rays started rapidly expanding in 1987, the study by the National Cancer Institute and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found.
The drop worries breast cancer experts, who say mammograms play a key role in reducing breast cancer deaths.
"This is very troubling," said Nancy Breen, who led the analysis published by the American Cancer Society's journal Cancer. "If women are not getting mammograms, then their cancer may not be diagnosed until later stages."
Overall, the proportion of women older than 40 who said they had gotten a mammogram in the last two years declined from 70% in 2000 to 66% in 2005.
The drop was greatest - 6.8 percentage points - among women ages 50 to 64, the age group most likely to benefit from mammograms.