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Would Spa Treatments Up Mammogram Rates?

November 12, 2012
Written by: , Filed in: Breast Imaging
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Would providing a spa treatment along with a mammogram—a “mammy-pedi”—encourage more Utah women to get breast exams?

That question was posed—quite seriously— last week at a Salt Lake City meeting of radiologists, cancer specialists, and other physicians, as well as breast cancer survivors and representatives from health insurance companies and hospitals.

The Utah Department of Health convened the gathering to try to figure out how to boost the state’s mammography rates, according to the Salt Lake Tribune. The Health Department cited 2010 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicating that 67 percent of Utah women had had a mammogram within the previous two years. That was the second-lowest rate of any state, ahead of only Idaho.

Two things kept coming up in the discussions: convenience and the 2009 recommendation by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) against routine mammograms for women in their 40s.

Arlen Jarrett, MD, an obstetrician/gynecologist, said he increased screening rates to nearly 100 percent by adding a mammography machine at his office, making the procedure extremely convenient for his patients.

But then came the still-controversial USPSTF recommendations. Dr. Jarrett said mammography rates among his patients fell:

The message came across that it was bad.

Health Department representatives said the top reasons given by women for not getting screened, mentioned by one third of those who hadn’t had a mammogram, were that they didn’t have time or were “lazy.” About a quarter said they couldn’t afford it or didn’t have insurance. So the increase in insured rates promised by the Affordable Care Act may help—although the department’s Lynne Nilson said 75 percent of the women who hadn’t received a mammogram in the past two years were insured.

Among the suggestions for improving rates, besides the mammy-pedis, were extending clinic hours, expanding mobile-clinic programs, making screenings child-friendly, and nagging (having doctors’ offices follow up after a mammogram is recommended to see if patients actually schedule screenings).

Radiologists at the meeting also suggested deciding on a universal screening message. The USPSTF recommendations muddied what had been a clear “get screened annually starting at age 40” guideline. Now, a lot of women are confused about when or even whether they should go for mammograms. So they don’t.

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