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Mammography rates are improving among foreign-born women living in the United States, but they are still less likely to have been screened than their native-born counterparts, according to a study by researchers at Pennsylvania State University in University Park.

Their findings were presented at the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) Fourth Conference on The Science of Cancer Health Disparities, held September 18-21, 2011,in Washington, DC.

Lead researcher Nengliang (Aaron) Yao, a doctoral student in health policy and administration, and colleagues note that lack of access to health insurance and a regular source of health care are major contributing factors to the lower rate of screening among this group.

The investigators analyzed data from the 2000 and 2008 National Health Interview Survey, conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics and administered by the US Census Bureau, to determine mammography screening of immigrants as well as factors contributing to use. They found that screening rates in this group increased from about 60.2% in 2000 to 65.5% in 2008 and that disparities in mammography use between immigrants and native-born women narrowed from 11.2% in 2000 to 3.4% in 2008.

Immigrants who had been in the United States for decade or more had significantly higher screening rates compared with those who had been in the country for less than a decade: 64.7% versus 39.3%, respectively, in 2000 and 67.9% versus 55.7%, respectively, in 2008. Also in 2008, immigrant women with public insurance were twice likely than uninsured women to have received a mammogram, whereas immigrant women with private insurance had odds more than 2.5 higher than uninsured women to have received a mammogram.

Having a regular source of health care was another key factor. In 2008, the odds for receiving screening were more than twice as high for those with a regular source of health care than those without.

An increase in culturally and linguistically appropriate subsidized programs, such as those developed by the National Breast and Cervical Cancers Early Detection Program of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that encourage foreign-born women to get screened, may also have led to increases in mammograms, says Yao.