'Personal touch' boosts breast cancer screening rates

Personal touch from clinicians in the form of reminder postcards and physician-signed letters can improve breast cancer screening rates, according to a Canadian study presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology Breast Cancer Symposium in San Francisco this past weekend.

The BC Cancer Agency Screen Mammography program routinely sends out a series of reminder postcards to women due mammography screening; in this study, the researchers identified 5,385 women with previous normal mammography results who were overdue for screening by 30 to 48 months.

Those women were randomly notified they were overdue for a screening exam by either receiving the standard postcard notification or the postcard plus a reminder letter personally signed by their family physician.

Within a six-month period, 22 percent of the postcard-only group were screened, compared to 33 percent of the women in the postcard and letter group. The researchers also found that women who were overdue a shorter period of time (30 to 36 months) were more likely to return for screening, as were women who had more than one prior screening mammogram.

"For screening mammography to be effective, women have to come for their screening appointments at the recommended intervals," lead study author Elisa Chan, M.D., who worked for the BC Cancer Agency during the study and is now a radiation oncologist at Saint John Regional Hospital in New Brunswick, Canada, said in an article in the ASCO Post. "This study shows that for women who are overdue, even though we've sent them reminder postcards, a very simple intervention from their family physician can make a big difference in improving the overall screening mammography return rate."

Julia White, M.D., a Breast Cancer Symposium News Planning Team member, said that often times, technology advancements are seen as a means for improving breast cancer screening detection rates.

"In contrast, this study highlights how detection by screening may be improved by simply using a reminder to women with a more personal touch," she said.

Other studies have shown that a personal touch can increase cancer screening rates. For example, a recent study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that community health center patients who received follow-up in the form of outreach by mail, automated telephone or text message and phone calls were more than twice as likely to complete a colon cancer screening test.

To learn more:
- see the study abstract
- read the article in the ASCO Post
- see the study in JAMA Internal Medicine