Women living with chronic health problems are more likely to put off breast cancer screening. According to a recent study by Massachusetts General Hospital, women with one or more chronic diseases receive fewer mammography screenings than those without them.
Researchers reviewed the Mass General medical records of 9,575 women between the ages of 50 and 64. The patients studied had been screened for breast cancer in 2005 and were recommended a follow-up screening within eight years.
Which chronic conditions affect mammography screening rates?
At least three months before their last mammogram, 1,669 women (17.7%) in the study had been diagnosed with a chronic illness. These illnesses include:
- Congestive heart failure
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Atrial fibrillation
- Heart disease
- Peripheral vascular disease
- Diabetes mellitus type II
Women with one or more of these illnesses had fewer follow-up screenings compared to those who didn’t have any chronic illness. But three chronic conditions stood out from the others.
Women with two chronic conditions have lower screening rates
Researchers found that women with COPD, congestive heart failure, and diabetes mellitus type II underwent fewer mammography screenings than other patients. That includes patients with other chronic conditions listed above.
What’s more, patients who had more than one chronic condition were even less likely to receive routine breast cancer screening. Women who only had one chronic illness had a breast cancer screening rate closer to those who had no illness than to those with two conditions.
To put this in perspective, on average 50% of women age 40 and older reported having a mammogram in the last year, according to a 2015 National Health Interview Survey. Another 64% reported that they’d received a mammogram in the last two years.
Women with two or more chronic illnesses are less likely to receive follow-up 3D mammography screenings after their initial 3D mammography screening. This means, rather than receive one screening every two years, they might only undergo screening once every four years.
“Despite experiencing longer life expectancies [with 3D mammography],” said lead researcher Randy Miles, “women with specific chronic diseases may experience additional barriers to … mammography screening, which is likely [caused] by the comorbidity burden of being simultaneously treated for multiple chronic conditions.”
Why do chronic health conditions have such a big impact on how often women receive breast cancer screenings? Women fear what a breast cancer diagnosis could mean for their health if they’re already receiving medical treatment for other conditions.
Despite this fear, regular breast cancer screening is crucial. Stay tuned for part two where we’ll dive deeper into why chronic conditions play a role in screening rate and why mammography is an essential part of your health.