Screening rate for breast cancer dips
Health officials are alarmed that more isle women are not taking advantage of the tool
Fewer Hawaii women are getting annual mammograms for breast cancer screening although early detection and treatment have increased the survival rate, according to the American Cancer Society Hawaii Pacific.
"It's very alarming to me as a breast cancer survivor to realize even women who are covered for annual mammograms are not going in and getting them," said Erin Moncada, director of health initiatives at the agency.
The National Cancer Institute and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have reported that for the first time the number of women getting mammograms nationally has declined.
The state trend is consistent with the national data that show a 4 percentage-point drop in breast cancer screening in 2005 to 66 percent of women 40 and older, Moncada said. The cancer society says those rates rose from 1987 to 2000 and stayed about the same from 2000 to 2003.
This disturbing news comes during National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
"It's just plain frightening," Moncada said, "because I myself am a breast cancer survivor because I was having annual mammograms and it was found very, very early in 1999."
Moncada, 55, said her mother died of breast cancer "so I was not going to take any chances."
She was doing self-exams but the lumps were too little to be palpable, she said. The surgeon couldn't feel them "but the mammogram showed a dangerous area. So, I'm a personal proponent of annual mammograms as being the tracking device that catches cancer earlier."
One out of eight women get breast cancer, but 96 percent live five years or longer because of early detection and treatment, the cancer society reported this month.
The death rate began falling in 1990 and has continued to drop more than 2 percent per year, the cancer society said in Breast Cancer Facts and Figures 2007 published this month.
However, it said, black women and women of other racial and ethnic groups women have benefited less from the advances than Caucasian women because of disparities in health care.
Hawaii had 127.3 breast cancer cases and 18.3 deaths per 100,000 population from 1999 to 2003 according to the report, Moncada noted.
"That really does show women need not die of breast cancer. The key is catching it early and the very best detection is mammography."
Women may be putting off getting mammograms because they're not insured, Moncada said.
But even with full insurance coverage, only 40 percent of its members age 40 or older who should have had a mammogram in the past two years got one, reported University Health Alliance, Hawaii's third-largest commercial health insurer.
"We were just really shocked at the numbers," said Linda Kalahiki, UHA administrative director.
Hawaii Medical Service Association, the state's largest health insurer, said its breast screening rate has consistently been in the high 60s for commercial health plans.
Kalahiki said UHA has joined with the cancer society in Hawaii to encourage women to get mammograms with television advertising.
UHA also is trying to find an explanation for the decline in women getting breast screening, Kalahiki said. "Receiving regular mammograms is the single best thing a woman can do to reduce her chances of dying from breast cancer," said Dr. Max Botticelli, UHA's chief executive officer.