Breast Cancer Screening Recs More Confusing than Helpful, Study Finds

April 7, 2011

The mammography screening guidelines released in 2009 were more confusing than they were helpful, and women aged 40 to 49 were the most confused. That’s according to a study published in the May 2011 issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, in which researchers examined news reports and social media posts about the new recommendations, as well as surveyed women after the announcement.

The mammography screening guidelines released in 2009 were more confusing than they were helpful, and women aged 40 to 49 were the most confused.

That’s according to a study published in the May 2011 issue of theAmerican Journal of Preventive Medicine, in which researchers examined news reports and social media posts about the new recommendations, as well as surveyed women after the announcement.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force’s recommendations, released in November 2009, were greeted with considerable controversy. Researchers from RTI International in Bethesda, Md., and Research Triangle Park, N.C., examined the public discourse around the announcement, finding the media coverage to be generally unbalanced and unsupportive of the recommendations.

For example, among the 233 newspaper articles, blog posts, and Twitter messages analyzed, 51.9 percent were unsupportive, compared with 17.6 percent that were supportive. Fifty-five percent of newspaper articles were negative about the recommendations, as were 66.2 percent of blog posts. Often these reports cited concerns that delaying screening would lead to later detection of more advanced breast cancer or that the recommendations represented government rationing of healthcare, researchers found.

Among the 1,221 women surveyed, 30 percent said they found the new recommendations confusing, while just 6.2 percent said they helped them understand when to get a mammogram. Researchers found that only 20.3 percent of women aged 40 to 49 and 23.4 percent of women overall could correctly identify the new mammography recommendations for women over 40 years old. Women aged 40 to 49 were “significantly more likely to be confused” about when to get a mammogram, researchers said.

Linda B. Squiers, PhD, senior health communication analyst for RI in Bethesda, and her co-authors noted that for these recommendations to be accepted by providers and consumers, “they first must be understood.” Testing the way the message is relayed to the public can ensure the information is presented clearly and credibly, using appropriate language for the target audience.

“Using message testing in the future may help identify specific components or words (e.g. routine, against) with the recommendations that could cause providers, consumers, and advocacy agencies to be confused or concerned,” they concluded.

What were you hearing from patients? Do you think the recommendations and how the news was covered was confusing?