Mammography: Capacity Generally Exists to Deliver Services

GAO-02-532 Published: Apr 19, 2002. Publicly Released: Apr 26, 2002.
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Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths among American women. In 2001, 192,200 new cases of breast cancer were diagnosed and 40,200 women died from the disease. The probability of survival increases significantly, however, when breast cancer is discovered in its early stages. Currently, the most effective technique for early detection of breast cancer is screening mammography, an X-ray procedure that can detect small tumors and breast abnormalities up to two years before they can be detected by touch. Nationwide data indicate that mammography services are generally adequate to meet the growing demand. Between 1998 and 2000, both the population of women 40 and older and the extent to which they were screened increased by 15 percent. Although mammography services are generally available, women in some locations have problems obtaining timely mammography services in some metropolitan areas. However, the greatest losses in capacity have come in rural counties. In all, 121 counties, most of them rural, have experienced a drop of more than 25 percent in the number of mammography machines in the last three years. Officials from 37 of these counties reported that the decrease had not had a measurable adverse effect on the availability of mammography services. By contrast, in 18 metropolitan counties that lost a smaller percentage of their total capacity, officials in half of the counties reported service disruptions. Officials from six other urban areas, including Houston and Los Angeles, reported that public health facilities serving low income women had long waiting times. However, most women whose clinical exam or initial mammogram indicated a need for a follow-up mammogram were able to get appointments within one to three weeks.

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