Health Watch - Mammogram Reminder

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There could be more deaths from breast cancer if women continue a current trend.

Doctors recommend that women have annual screening mammograms to check for breast cancer starting at age 40. But researchers in Boston say few women actually follow that recommendation, and the consequences can be deadly. Researchers tracked more than 70 thousand women over a 10-year period. Of the women who had mammograms in 1992, only 6 percent faithfully followed the recommendation to have one every year. Each woman should have received 10 mammograms during that period, but the average number reported in the study was five.

Doctors fed this information into a computer program designed to predict the detection, growth and spread of breast cancer. They found that the program predicted an increase in deaths from breast cancer because of cancer not being detected in time.

Doctors at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas say mammograms are the best tool for early breast-cancer detection. They can find cancer long before a lump can be felt. Dr. Marilyn Leitch, a UT Southwestern breast cancer expert, says early detection makes it more likely that a woman won't have to lose her entire breast. It may also mean a woman can avoid chemotherapy, and all the unpleasant side effects that come with it, like hair loss.

Researchers recommend that doctors use some low-tech approaches to get women to have mammograms on schedule, such as phone calls and postcard reminders.

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July 2004

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