News | October 15, 2014

New Breast Cancer Screening Report Shows Many Women Are Unaware That Dense Breast Tissue Masks Cancer, May Lead To Higher Risk

Low level of awareness revealed about breast density and lower accuracy of mammogram screening for dense breasts

The Working Mother Breast Screening Report Dense Breast

October 15, 2014 — A new survey entitled "Diagnosis Anxiety: The Working Mother Breast Screening Report" sheds important new information on the level of awareness women have about breast cancer today and what they are doing to help reduce the disease or detect it early. The survey of 2,502 women, conducted by the Working Mother Research Institute (WMRI) and sponsored by GE Healthcare, revealed that while 80 percent of the women have had a mammogram, and 70 percent of those women get an annual breast screening:

  • Only one out of five women surveyed who have dense breasts know that they may be at a higher risk of breast cancer.

Kelly Roberts, M.D., director of breast imaging curriculum at the University of Illinois Hospital and Health Sciences System in Chicago, calls this finding "alarming" considering that a woman with extremely dense breasts has twice as much risk of developing cancer in the next 10 years as a woman with average density. In addition, mammography is estimated to be only 48 percent effective in detecting cancers in dense breasts, compared to 98 percent effective in typical fatty breasts, according to Roberts.

  • Fewer than half (43%) knows that having dense breast tissue makes it harder to read a mammogram.

Jessie Jacob, M.D., chief medical officer of breast health at GE Healthcare, says, "Dense breast tissue masks cancers making it difficult for radiologists to detect on a standard mammogram. As a breast imaging physician, I educate my patients about risk factors around breast density and the supplemental screening options that exist because there is no one size fits all approach to screening women with dense breasts."

  • In addition, only 9 percent of the survey participants with dense breasts say their doctor recommended a supplemental screening breast exam.
  • Only 21 percent knew that if your mother had dense breasts, you are likely to follow.

The Callback Quandary

Nearly half of the women surveyed who have had a mammogram have been asked to return for more tests. For women with dense breasts, that number jumped to 69 percent. Three quarters of women in the survey who have been called back feel nervous, and 43 percent find it difficult to focus on day-to-day activities while waiting for results.

Carol Evans, president of Working Mother Media, says, "This new WMRI survey touches on a topic that affects all women, whether or not they're working and whether or not they're moms. The big questions about how to protect ourselves always loom, and the annual ritual of mammography is a time of intense anxiety for many of us."

Testing Info

While 84 percent of the respondents call the level of detail they received about their mammogram results "acceptable," only 59 percent say they are satisfied with their interaction with their radiologist and slightly fewer feel informed about the different types of breast imaging technology available to them.

Nine out of 10 consider mammograms to be an important part of health management while 80 percent have had at least one mammogram. Seventy percent of the respondents who have had a mammogram get screened annually. And a vast majority of women who have had mammograms report a positive experience, with 92 percent saying they were satisfied with their interaction with their technician, the overall atmosphere of the facility (91 percent) and how quickly they got an appointment (90 percent).

Why Women Skip Breast Screening

For the 20 percent of women who hadn't had a mammogram, the top reason for skipping it was cost (36 percent) followed by 24 percent who say it's "not necessary," 15 percent who say they never got around to it and 13 percent who are afraid.

Minorities & Mammograms

The Working Mother survey found that minority women, who comprised 14% of the survey, report slightly different breast screening experiences. They are more likely to say they received their first mammogram to be proactive about their health (25 percent of minority women vs. 21 percent of the total sample). However, they are less likely to have gotten their first mammogram because a doctor recommended one as a baseline (42% percent of the minority women vs. 48 percent, total sample).

About the Survey Respondents

The survey was completed by a total of 2,502 women, who were at least 35 years old with an average age of 56, spanning 50 states. Eighty percent of the respondents have had a mammogram, breast ultrasound other breast imaging. A total of 68 percent of the women say they do not have a family history of breast cancer while 32 percent do. The ethnic makeup of the survey was 86 percent white, 9 percent black, 2 percent Asian, 2 percent American Indian and 1 percent Other, with 4 percent of the sample also identifying as Hispanic.

About the Methodology

The Working Mother Research Institute developed a national survey and fielded it through a series of email blasts sent by Survey Sampling International to women who had agreed to participate. Bonnier Custom Insights received and tabulated the responses, which were analyzed by Maria S. Ferris Consulting LLC.

For more information: workingmother.com/wmri

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