Well-Being Prevention & Cures

Many women are skipping lifesaving mammograms, poll finds

“Breast cancer is one of the few cancers where the survival rate is very high when caught early, and we know that early detection is where we can really make a difference.”
Nurse giving Mammogram.

Story at a glance

  • Many Americans skipped routine cancer screenings throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • Now, new survey results show one-fifth of women between the ages 35 and 44 have never gotten a mammogram and don’t plan to. 

  • Breast cancer screening and early detection are the best tools against death from the disease, experts say.

A portion of young women in the U.S. are putting off critical breast cancer screenings and have no plans to get one in the near future, according to a new survey.

Orlando Health surveyed more than 1,000 women and found that 22 percent of those aged 35 to 44 have never gotten a mammogram — an X-ray picture used to detect breast cancer — and have no plans to. At the same time, less than half of respondents said they knew their family history of breast cancer, and just 32 percent knew their individual risk factors for breast cancer. 

The findings come as the number of people getting screened for cancer in the U.S. has fallen dramatically since the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Black women are at a particular high risk of breast cancer, as they are more likely to be diagnosed at a younger age and die from the disease compared with white women.

In the United States, around 42,000 women die of breast cancer each year, but screening and early detection via mammograms continue to be the best tools against death. 

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“Mammograms can pick up tumors that are extremely small and result in a diagnosis at a stage zero or one, versus waiting for a patient to feel a lump and then by then it’s probably a stage two or three,” said Nikita Shah, the medical oncology team leader for the Breast Care Center at the Orlando Health Cancer Institute in a statement

“That’s the difference between a lumpectomy and possibly a short course of radiation and more extensive treatments that involve chemotherapy, radiation and surgeries. Survival also goes from nearly 100 percent at stage zero to 50 to 70 percent for those diagnosed at stage two or three.”

The National Comprehensive Cancer Network recommends all women at average risk should begin receiving mammograms at age 40. However, starting at age 25, women should undergo a breast cancer risk assessment, and those with risk factors like a family history of the disease should begin annual mammograms earlier.  

Lifestyle risk factors for breast cancer include drinking alcohol, being overweight or obese, lack of physical activity, not having children and not breastfeeding. Non-modifiable risk factors include older age, having certain genetic mutations and reproductive history. 

“Breast cancer is one of the few cancers where the survival rate is very high when caught early, and we know that early detection is where we can really make a difference,” Shah said. 

Survey findings underscore the importance of women in their 20s discussing breast cancer risks with their primary care providers or gynecologist. This way they can determine when to begin mammograms. Experts also point to the benefits of monthly self-breast exams so women can better recognize any changes and bring them to their doctor’s attention. 

The online survey was conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of Orlando Health from Sept. 8-12.