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When to Get Your Next Mammogram or Cervical Cancer Screening? Most Women Don't Know

Aug 16, 2016

Credit freeimages.com/Keith Syvinski

Planned Parenthood says a recent national survey shows persistent confusion among women about when and how often they should be screened for breast and cervical cancer.

Those screenings used to be recommended annually, but guidelines have changed depending upon a woman's age and risk factors.

The survey also shows that Black and Hispanic women have additional barriers to screening for breast and cervical cancer.

"Women of color were twice as likely to avoid a test because of fear of the test itself, of getting the test, but also fear of the result,” said Dr. Rachel Phelps, medical director of Planned Parenthood of Central and Western New York.

The time it takes for a medical appointment and the distance to the doctor’s office were mentioned by more Black and Hispanic women than white women as barriers to getting screened. Also, 32% of Black and 42% of Hispanic women cite cost as a factor, compared to 19% of white women. Dr. Phelps said many don’t realize that there are no costs or co-pays for routine screenings since the passage of the Affordable Care act.

“I think all of these speak to outcomes,” she said. “Women of color are more likely to die of cervical cancer and breast cancer in this country than white women, and that's not okay. That's not the world we want to live in."

Women of all racial backgrounds who took the survey don’t seem to understand how frequently they should be getting mammograms and pap tests to screen for breast and cervical cancer, even though they believe they do.

The vast majority (84%) of women said they understand how often they should be checked for breast cancer. However, only 10% correctly answered that the average 21 to 39 year old woman should get a clinical breast exam every 1 to 3 years, depending on her personal history.

Only 9% of women who answered the survey knew that the average 21 to 29 year old woman should be checked for cervical cancer every 3 years, and every 3 to 5 years for women who are 30 to 64 years old.

Planned Parenthood updates its medical practice every year to reflect the latest screening intervals recommended by science-based medicine, but some private medical practices may not change their recommendations to patients right away. Dr. Phelps says therein lies the confusion. "I think there's a lot of confusion out there in general because whenever there is a significant change in guidelines not everybody makes that change at the same pace, so I think women in general, from all walks of life, are getting really mixed messages."