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Experts say not enough women get regular mammograms

Women are not going for “free” mammography as often as they could and should.

Women are not going for “free” mammography as often as they could and should.

A new study in the U.S. has found only 50-60 per cent of women who could benefit from regular mammography actually go for it. Cost isn’t the issue: All of the 1.5 million women in the study had health insurance.

Mammography as recommended “can reduce your risk of dying from breast cancer,” says Dr. Gillian Bromfield, senior manager of cancer control policy at the Canadian Cancer Society. The society recommends all women between the ages of 50 and 69 get regular mammograms once every two years, which is covered in every provincial health program.

So how does Canada compare with the U.S.? When surveyed, 72 per cent of Canadian women in this age group say they are doing this. “That is pretty good,” says Dr. Bromfield, though she added, “it might not be quite that high. Women are more likely to give the expected answer, or they don’t realize it’s been more than a couple of years since their last mammogram.”

Ideally, she says, 100 per cent of women would follow the recommendations.

If you are in your 40s, it is recommended that you talk to your doctor about the benefits and risks of mammography. If you decide to get mammography, there is some evidence you should get it done annually, says Dr. Bromfield. In any age group, if a doctor refers you for a mammogram because of symptoms or a family history, the public health system covers the cost.

“It is proven to save lives. That’s an important message. There’s a lot of misunderstanding about that,” says Dr. Bromfield.

In the U.S. study, authors said that reasons for the lower than expected rates might be fear of the procedure and confusion about guidelines.

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