After a lengthy period of increasing screening mammography utilization, screening rates dropped after the release of the 2009 United States Prevention Services Task Force recommendations, which advised against regular mammography screening for women ages 40 to 49 and called for biennial screening of women over 50.
In the study, published in Radiology, Brian Sprague, Ph.D., of the University of Vermont, and colleagues, analyzed trends in screening mammography utilization among approximately 150,000 women in Vermont over the age of 40 between 1997 and 2011.
The researchers found that the percentage of women aged 40 years or older who were screened in the past year fell from 45.3 percent in 2009--the year the USPSTF recommendations were released--to 41.6 percent in 2011. The biggest drop in utilization (4.8 percent) was found among women between the ages of 40 and 49, although declines also were seen among women aged 50 to 74 (3.0 percent) and women 75 and older (3.1 percent).
The data used in the study came from the Vermont Breast Cancer Surveillance System, which has been compiling screening data since 1994. In an article in AuntMinnie.com, Sprague said Vermont's screening rates are similar to those found in other states, so he suspects the same results may be found elsewhere.
He added that while it's clear that screening utilization dropped after the USPSTF recommendations came out, it remains unclear whether there is a firm connection between the two.
"We see the data, but we don't really know what led to the decrease in screening rates," Sprague told AuntMinnie.com. "We've looked at the economy in our state and the number of women without insurance, yet we haven't seen any dramatic changes in these factors that would explain this. But we're aware that this is a complicated issue."
There have been several other studies or analyses that have detected similar drops in screening utilization since the USPSTF recommendations came out in 2009. For example, an article published last fall in MedPage Today reported on a study by Mayo Clinic researchers that found that two years after the new screening guidelines were published, the mammography utilization rate among women between the ages of 40 and 49 was 5 percent below baseline rates.