Mammography screening rates may be increased by better sensitising women to their risk of getting breast cancer, says a new study.

The study used data from 1,803 women aged 35 to 70 from the Alberta Tomorrow Project, a population-based survey that focuses on the causes of cancer and other chronic diseases. It found that the odds of getting screened were higher for women who rated their personal perceived risk high, compared to those who rated it low.

“We were able to find a link between a person’s perceived susceptibility of developing cancer to being screened for mammography,” said first author Meghan Gilfoyle, who is now studying in Ireland. “This allows health practitioners, policy makers and communities to better understand why people may choose a particular health behaviour, such as being screened for breast cancer.

“Traditional routes of awareness campaigns to enhance uptake may not be effectively reaching some individuals. This type of personalised medicine can be a tool for promoting screening.”

A tool for promoting breast screening

Personalised health promotion efforts can be applied in jurisdictions where screening rates are low and this approach would not unduly alarm low-risk women because it is not directed at them.

“Helping to create the perception that you are susceptible may be effective at prompting high-risk individuals to get screened,” said co-author Mark Oremus, a public health professor. “It’s another tool that public health officials and physicians doing routine check-ups can use.

“From a public health perspective, we want to encourage everyone who needs to get screened to do so.This study showed that if physicians in their offices can plant the seed in a high-risk individual’s mind that they are susceptible, it can make a difference.” 

The study, “Perceived susceptibility to developing cancer and mammography screening behaviour: a cross-sectional analysis of Alberta's Tomorrow Project,” was co-authored by Meghan Gilfoyle, John Garcia, Ashok Chaurasia and Mark Oremus. The study appears in the journal Public Health.