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Figures show fewer women seeking regular mammograms

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About three-fourths of central Indiana women have been getting recommended mammograms after the age of 40, but that number has declined slightly over the past few years.

The most recent U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics show that the number of local women in that age group who have reported getting mammograms in the previous two years dropped from 77.7 percent in 2008 to 73.8 percent last year. That figure reflects women over 40 who live in the Indianapolis metropolitan area, including Johnson County.

The drop in central Indiana women older than 50 who got mammograms in the previous two years was even steeper, the statistics showed. About 81 percent of women in that age group had reported getting a mammogram sometime over the past two years in 2008, but that number declined to 76.6 percent two years ago.

Johnson County Health Department director of nursing Lisa DeVault said the sluggish economy likely was to blame. People lost jobs and their health insurance during that time and couldn’t afford preventive health care, she said.

Get a mammogram

The Johnson County Health Department can pay for mammograms if you can’t afford one:

Who: Women within 250 percent of the poverty level — earning up to $27,225 a year if they live alone.

Where to call: Contact the Johnson County Health Department at 346-4377 to see if you qualify.

Where to go: If you qualify, you can make an appointment for the mammogram at Johnson Memorial Hospital in Franklin or Franciscan St. Francis Hospital on the southside.

The health department recently got a federal grant to help low-income women get mammograms so that cost isn’t a deterrence. The screenings save lives by catching breast cancer early, DeVault said.

“It’s obviously very important to have early detection,” she said. “Early detection is always best.”

Currently, the American Cancer Society, the American Medical Association and the Mayo Clinic recommend that women start getting mammograms at age 40 and continue for as long as they’re in good health.

They’ve stuck with those guidelines even after a federal agency suggested that women should wait longer before going in for annual mammography screenings.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommended in November 2009 that women wait until their 50s because of the risk of false-positive test results, over-diagnosis and unnecessary earlier treatment.

Since then, a Mayo Clinic study showed mammogram rates for women in the 40s have dropped nearly 6 percent nationwide, according to a news release. But Mayo and other groups reaffirmed as recently as July that they still encourage women to get yearly mammograms after the age of 40.

Mayo’s study was national and the most recent local data available is not updated enough to show whether the new federal guidelines had any impact. The most recent statistics the Indiana State Department of Health have are from 2010, and reflect the previous two years, spokesman Ken Severson said.

Those CDC statistics do show that the number of central Indiana women over 40 years old who get mammograms has hovered between about 73 percent and 78 percent for the past decade.

An estimated 77.5 percent of women older than 40 got mammograms in 2002, the data showed. But that number declined slightly in 2004 and dropped again in 2006, before bouncing back to 77.7 percent in 2008.

The figures for women older than 50 also have fluctuated, though the data for that age group only date back to 2006.

Getting 100 percent of women in those age groups to get the recommended screenings may never be an attainable goal, but the hope is that as many women as possible will get mammograms, DeVault said.

“It’s definitely easier to treat when you catch it early,” she said. “You have more treatment options. When it’s caught late, the prognosis also isn’t as good.”

The county health department is trying to help more women get mammograms, even if they think they can’t afford it, office coordinator Claudia Bigelow said. The department got a $6,750 federal grant and also hopes to get more funding this year to help low-income women get mammograms.

A single woman with up to $27,225 a year or a member of a family of five with $65,425 in household income would qualify for the help. The health department also will try to help whomever they can, such as women who might have health insurance but prohibitively high deductibles for mammogram, Bigelow said.

“Detection on-site is so, so important,” she said. “We would encourage all women not to be fearful and to get clinical breast exams. We’ll help them get that screening as long as the funds last.”

At a glance

The percentage of women in the Indianapolis metropolitan area who had received a mammogram within the previous two years:

Women older than 50


Yes: 76.6 percent

No: 23.4 percent


Yes: 81 percent

No: 19 percent


Yes: 77.7 percent

No: 22.3 percent

Women older than 40


Yes: 73.8 percent

No: 26.2 percent


Yes: 77.7 percent

No: 22.3 percent


Yes: 73.5 percent

No: 26.5 percent


Yes: 76.2 percent

No: 23.6 percent


Yes: 77.5 percent

No: 22.5 percent

SOURCE: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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