By MIKE STOBBE, AP Medical Writer
January 25, 2007 - The percentage of American women getting mammograms has dropped slightly in the past few years, in what health officials say is a troubling sign that the battle against breast cancer is flagging.
The percentage of women 40 and older who said they had a mammogram in the previous two years dropped from 76.4 percent to 74.6 percent between 2000 and 2005, according to study released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The rate had risen dramatically over the past two decades, from 29 percent in 1987, according to the American Cancer Society said.
The decline of less than 2 percentage points may seem small, but it could be terribly significant, said Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, the cancer society's deputy chief medical officer.
If you consider that about 80 million U.S. women should be getting a mammogram every year, that means more than 1 million fewer women are getting the screening test, Lichtenfeld said.
And that may mean thousands of cases of breast cancer may not be diagnosed. Women whose breast cancer is caught early have more treatment options and a better chance of beating the disease.
The decline may also at least partly explain a recent drop in U.S. breast cancer rates: It may be that if fewer women are getting mammograms, fewer cases of breast cancer are being discovered.
Some researchers instead tied the drop in breast cancer to reduced use of hormones for menopause.