• breast carcinoma;
  • mammography;
  • screening;
  • disparity



The American Cancer Society recommends yearly mammographic screening for women starting at the age of 40 years. The authors examined the age at which women began screening at a large tertiary care center.


Utilization of mammography was assessed in a population of 72,417 women who received 254,818 screening mammograms at the Massachusetts General Hospital Avon Comprehensive Breast Center from January 1, 1985 to February 19, 2002, of which 940 received their first mammogram between January 16, 2000 and February 19, 2002.


The median age at first mammogram for women in the population as a whole was 40.4 years. Sixty percent of women had their first mammogram by the end of their 40th year, and almost 90% had begun screening by age 50 years. However, these reassuring findings were not seen in several specific subpopulations of women. Black women began screening at a median age of 41.0 years, 0.7 years later than white women. Hispanic women began screening at a median age of 41.4 years, 1.1 years later than non-Hispanic women. Obese women began screening at a median age of 41.2 years, 1.6 years later than thin women. Women without a primary care physician began screening at a median age of 42.1 years, 1.8 years later than women with a primary care physician. Women without private health insurance began screening at a median age of 46.6 years, 6.3 years later than women with private health coverage. Women who did not speak English began screening at a median age of 49.3 years, 9.0 years later than women for whom English was the primary language. Women who both lacked private health insurance and spoke a language other than English began screening at a median age of 55.3 years, 15.2 years later than women without these characteristics.


The analysis presented in the current study provided one of the most detailed descriptions of the age at screening initiation to be performed to date. Most women in the study population began screening by the end of their 40th year. This contrasted with the widespread failure of women to return promptly for subsequent annual examinations. However, specific subpopulations of women were at risk for not beginning screening on time, including women without private insurance, women without a primary care physician, and women who did not speak English. These findings suggest that there is little to be gained from populationwide efforts to encourage entry into the screening process, and that public health efforts should be focused on those subpopulations of women at highest risk for not using screening. These results also indicate that public health efforts to encourage women to start screening may be less critical than interventions to improve prompt return once they have entered the screening system. Cancer 2004. © 2004 American Cancer Society.