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Travel time for breast cancer screening remains long for many women in US, new study shows

ACS researchers stress new programs to help geographic accessibility to cancer screening.

A new study led by ACS researchers shows travel time to the nearest mammography facility is long for a considerable proportion of women in the United States, particularly affecting more than 50% of women in rural areas in 28 states. This poor geographic accessibility was associated with a lower number of women getting important breast cancer screening. The study was published last week in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute (JNCI).

“Our findings are concerning. Mammography is widely available in the United States, but barriers, such as long drive times, are likely influencing a woman’s decision to get screened,” said Dr. Daniel Wiese, ACS senior scientist, cancer disparity research. “We need to move forward on programs to remove these barriers so women can access this potentially life-saving screening.”

Study results showed, nationwide, the proportion of women with limited accessibility to mammography remains high. This proportion did not substantially change from 2006 (12.7%) to 2022 (12.2%), however, because of population growth, the estimated number of women with limited accessibility increased from 7.5 million in 2006 to 8.2 million in 2022. In 10 states, the data showed more than 26% of women had limited accessibility to mammography, primarily in the Rocky Mountains and the South regions. Except for a few states in the New England and Mid-Atlantic regions, limited accessibility to mammography was substantial in rural areas (greater than 50% in 28 states), with highest proportions in the Rocky Mountains region. In urban areas, this proportion was less than 5.0% in 35 states. The largest improvements were in South Dakota and Mississippi, where limited accessibility declined by 5.1% and 4.8%, respectively.

“The simple answer would be to open more breast cancer screening facilities in sparsely populated areas, but this can be economically and logistically challenging,” Dr. Wiese said.

Other suggestions for removing barriers include providing transportation or promoting the use of mobile screening units, he said, although further research is needed to improve the effectiveness of mobile screening units in increasing participation in breast cancer screening in rural areas.

Dr. Farhad Islami, senior scientific director, cancer disparity research, also participated in this study.

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