Over 8 Million Women in US Have Limited Access to Mammograms

A recent study found that many women in the United States have significant travel times to reach the closest mammography clinics, and most difficulty is found in rural areas.

Key takeaways:
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    Many U.S. women must travel long distances to get to the nearest mammography facilities, according to a recent study.
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    Even though mammography is common in the United States, it is less likely to be available in rural areas than in more populated ones.
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    Mobile screening units could help women in rural areas close the accessibility gap, as long as the facilities offer high-quality medical care.

Published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, researchers found that over 8 million women in the United States have limited access to mammograms. This number is slightly up from 2006.

Overall, nearly 13% of U.S. women struggle with getting to mammography facilities. Even though mammography is widely available in the United States, accessibility changes vastly depending on how rural or urban the area is.

Women in rural areas have much more trouble finding mammography centers. More than half of the women who lived in more rural areas in 28 states didn't have easy access to mammograms because of where they lived.

The researchers also found that in many more rural states, fewer women were up-to-date on breast cancer screening than in more urban and populated states. However, they are unsure if this is due to longer travel times.

Using information from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the study looked at the locations of mammography facilities in census tracts across the country from 2006 to 2022. It then estimated the number of women ages 45 to 84 who would have limited access to mammography tests because of where they lived.

Difficult access, according to the study, means that the person lives more than 20 minutes from the nearest facility. However, 20 minutes was only the minimum distance mentioned in the study, as other areas were more like 45 minutes away.

While 20 minutes may seem like a short trip for some, lack of transportation and poor public transportation in rural areas can make travel especially difficult.

About 88 percent of Americans own at least one car. People who live in rural areas and don't have cars or can't drive must depend on public transportation.

As of 2015, about one in ten (11%) Americans said they took public transportation every day or once a week. But this number changes a lot depending on where you live. For example, 39% of people in New York City use public transportation, but only about 3% of people in most rural towns in the country do.

Even though travel isn't the only thing that makes it hard to get up-to-date breast cancer screenings, the study suggests that it can be a big problem when paired with other common issues found in rural areas.

Women over 50 are encouraged to get mammogram screenings every one to two years. Experts say that if a screening points to any alarming findings that need further testing, it may be necessary to make another trip.

This can be hard to plan for women who have transportation complications or trouble getting time off from work.

While creating more mammography facilities in rural areas is an obvious solution, those specific areas do not currently have the funding to do so. Instead, experts say that mobile screening units could help women in rural areas close the accessibility gap.

Health professionals, like Dr. Laurie Zephyrin of the non-profit Commonwealth Fund, asked city and state officials to make sure that any new facilities offer the best medical care, like digital 3-D mammography and experienced radiologists who can read the images, as well as any follow-up care that is needed after a screening.

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