Breast Cancer Update

American Cancer Society Breast Cancer Update
December 2009

Staying Well: Take Steps to Reduce Your Risk or Find Breast Cancer Early

Study Shows Mammogram Reminders Work

Despite the best of intentions, did you skip your mammogram this year? You may need to put a better reminder system in place, according to a new study.

According to researchers at Kaiser Permanente Northwest, mammogram reminders – a postcard by mail, followed by a phone call – increased the number of women who came in for their mammogram.

The American Cancer Society recommends yearly mammograms for women aged 40 and older because regular screening can improve the chances of finding breast cancer early, when it is easier to treat. (Certain women at high risk for the disease should get an MRI yearly, as well.) Yet only about half of women aged 40 and older follow this guidance, according to the American Cancer Society.

In a recent study, researchers from Kaiser Permanente Northwest, located in Washington and Oregon, looked at whether sending mammography reminders – by mail or phone – improved breast cancer screening rates. The study group included more than 35,000 women aged 42 or older who were 20 months past their yearly mammogram due date. Researchers mailed out "mammogram past due" notifications, followed up by 2 automated phone calls, and 1 live phone call for women who didn’t respond. The women were tracked in 3 stages: a "pre-reminder" phase, a "post-reminder" phase 1 year after the reminder was sent, and a "maintenance" phase, 2 years later.

The research showed 63.4 percent of women aged 50 to 69 in the pre-reminder phase had had a mammogram; more than 75 percent had had one in the post-reminder phase, and 80.6 percent had been screened in the maintenance phase.

The researchers hope the success of this program leads to even more large-scale mammography reminder programs.

"Regular screening is critical to ensuring the greatest likelihood of finding cancer early," says Robert A. Smith, PhD, director of cancer screening at the American Cancer Society. "The value of reminder systems is well established, and the Kaiser study shows that they can be very effective on a mass scale. Ideally, efforts to reform health care will include reminder systems for cancer screening for all adults."

To help remember your mammogram, sign up for the American Cancer Society's free email mammogram reminder tool. It's easy to use and will email you a reminder to schedule your yearly mammogram during the month you choose when you sign up. You can even use the tool to send reminders to other women in your life.

Also, while mammography saves lives, it’s important to keep in mind that the test has its limitations. Sometimes cancers get overlooked or misdiagnosed; some aggressive cancers can appear even after a clear screening test. Be sure to discuss these limitations with your doctor to decide what is right for you. For more information, click to read Mammograms and Other Breast Imaging Procedures.

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