And doctors worry that could lead to rise in breast cancer cases
THURSDAY, Nov. 29 (HealthDay News) -- A mammogram isn't the easiest medical exam to endure, sometimes painful and often embarrassing to the woman.
And that's thought to be one potential reason why mammography rates have declined in women over age 40, after decades of steady increase, according to researchers at the U.S. National Cancer Institute.
That decrease has alarmed cancer experts, who believe the X-ray exam is the best way to detect breast cancer early.
"Mammograms are not perfect tests, but they currently are the most effective test available," said Dr. Michael Naughton, a breast cancer oncologist at the Washington University School of Medicine's Siteman Cancer Center in St. Louis.
"I think the best evidence that mammograms save lives is the falling mortality rate since we've been using them for early detection," added Naughton, who's also a member of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.
The death rate for breast cancer began to fall in 1989, dropping by about 1.6 percent each year through 1995, according to the American Cancer Society. Between 1995 and 1998, the drop in rates picked up even more speed, declining about 3.4 percent each year.
Overall, between 1990 and 2002, death rates from breast cancer declined an average of 2.3 percent annually for all women, with larger reductions in women younger than 50, according to cancer society statistics.
The drop in breast cancer rates coincided with an increase in the use of mammography to detect tumors in the breast.
Between 1987 and 2000, the use of mammography dramatically increased in women over the age of 40, from 39.1 percent to 70.1 percent, according to the National Cancer Institute. Rates stabilized between 2000 and 2003, but, by 2005, rates were 4 percent lower than they were in 2000 -- 66 percent versus 70 percent.
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