In November, right after the new mammography recommendations hit the press, HealthCentral sent out a survey to ask women what they thought. After more than 1000 responses, the preliminary results are in.
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Women Speak Out: Mammograms are painful but worth it
By Veronica Combs, HealthCentral Director of Patient Engagement
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force made headlines in November 2009 with new recommendations about who should have mammograms and when they should have them. The new guidelines state that mammograms are most effective for women 50 - 75. Currently most doctors recommend that women get yearly screenings starting at age 40.
In response to these new recommnedations, HealthCentral surveyed registered members to find out about about their experiences with mammograms and to get their thoughts on the new guidelines. We sent a survey invite via e-mail to our registered users in eight topic areas relevant to women's health.
A compelling subject
Unsurprisingly, we got a strong response. More than 1,000 people completed the survey and the overwhelming majority said that mammograms should be available to all women regardless of age. Our registered users also believe that mammograms should be covered by health insurance.
Women from many age groups completed the survey, including the exact demographic that will be directly affected by the new guidelines.
Most of the survey participants have firsthand experience with mammograms.
About 25% of respondents have or have had breast cancer.
Survey participants trust mammograms
Most women think that there should not be age limits around when a woman can get a mammogram.
HealthCentral members also thought mammograms should always be covered by health insurance.
Although the personal comments showed that women had concerns about false positive test results, the majority of survey respondents said the peace of mind from having he test outweighed the anxiety of a false positive and additional unnecessary testing.
We also compared responses from women who had breast cancer to responses from women who did not have breast cancer. That comparison is below.
Personal stories reveal human aspect of screening
The survey included an optional question that asked women to describe their experiences with mammograms. Almost everyone made a comment, which is unusual and shows the level of interest in this topic.
The general consensus was that mammograms are painful, but worth it. Many, many women said a mammogram had detected cancer and led to a lumpectomy or mastectomy. There were people who agreed with the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force about the risk of false positives and described unnecessary tests. There were also women whose cancer was missed by mammograms.
Based on these comments, women are interested in other screening methods for breast cancer, including digital mammograms, thermograms, and other, yet-to-be-developed screenings that are less invasive and expensive. There were also comments about the need for skilled technicians to perform the tests.
The comments below represent common themes among the survey responses.
"I dont think they are very accurate, especially for dense breasts. Mammograms did not detect my breast cancer. Neither did an ultrasound. It only showed up on MRI. I felt a lump 3 months after the last mammogram came back as 'normal'."
"Of course the procedure was uncomfortable, but so are many health exam procedures. I am a breast cancer survivor, and my tumors were found on a routine mammogram."
"I believe with all the money donated to breast cancer, there should be a simpler test to detect abnormalities each time you visit ob/gyn starting at 18. In the absence of that, we should not deter young women from getting mammograms and breast self-exams."
"They may be a bit uncomfortable, but certainly tolrerable. The worst thing is to have to sit there for some time until the radiologist tells you the results. That increases my blood pressure and is worse that the actual test!"
"By its very nature, a mammogram is painful and scary to say the least. But it is also a welcome lifesaver! My DCIS was found in a routine screening mammogram (age 47) and every mammogram after has been frightening but necessary."
We sent a survey invite to readers who subscribed to the newsletters from these topic areas on our Web site:
- Breast cancer
- Chronic pain
- Women's health
These results are from responses between November 19 - 25.
Take the survey! (you need a facebook account)
Published On: December 15, 2009