Breast cancer mortality has continued to decline, even as mammogram rates stabilized and then fell, but Naughton believes there would be a lag before the reduced use of mammograms would begin to show itself in more cancer deaths.
"If we stopped doing mammograms today, we wouldn't see an increase in the mortality rate for four or five years," Naughton said. "But survival is linked to early detection. The earlier the stage of cancer when we find it, the more likely the woman will survive."
Mammograms typically involve two low-dose X-rays of each breast. The technician taking the X-rays places each breast between two panels, pressing to get a clear picture and causing discomfort in some women.
Mammograms make it possible to detect tumors that can't be felt. The screening also can find microcalcifications, or tiny deposits of calcium, that sometimes indicate the presence of breast cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute.
The U.S. government recommends that women begin regular mammography screenings at age 40, receiving an examination every one to two years. Women at higher-than-average risk due to family history or other factors should talk with their doctor about whether they should begin regular screenings earlier than 40.
No studies have yet shown why the mammography rate has declined, but cancer experts have their guesses.
America's health-care system is one culprit in the eyes of Dr. Aman Buzdar, a professor of medicine and deputy chairman of the department of breast medical oncology at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, in Houston.
With dozens of health insurance plans offering different benefits, women can become confused about when they need to receive a mammogram, Buzdar said.
"In the countries whe
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