A recent study done by the American College of Surgeons indicates that over 30 percent of breast cancer survivors do not receive their annual breast imaging follow-up exam.

Although mammograms are strongly recommended for breast cancer patients post-treatment, previous studies, primarily on the 65 plus age group, showed an 8 percent decline in breast imaging received one year post-treatment to four years post-treatment.

This most recent study is the first to focus on a multi-institutional population of patients of all ages; 50 percent of the participants were younger than 60. The researchers collected information on the reason for breast surveillance imaging with or without signs of recurring cancer.

However, the fact that mammograms are underutilized remained unchanged. “The most striking finding,” according to Dr. Greenburg, a professor of surgery and the Director of the Wisconsin Surgical Outcomes Research Program at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, “is that over 30 percent of women don’t even get surveillance breast imaging in the first place. For some reason, we are not plugging them into follow-up surveillance from the outset.”

These recent findings present some variables that may factor into a patient’s decision not to get post-treatment breast imaging scans, including age, race, and the patient’s health insurance. However, the biggest issue is the lack of standardized care in the first year after breast cancer treatment—the study found that the likelihood of receiving a breast MRI in this first critical year varies greatly from hospital to hospital.

Women who do not get breast imaging in the first year after treatment are less likely to receive breast imaging longer-term. Researchers agree that understanding why so many cancer survivors underutilize breast imaging follow-up exams is key to understanding how to successfully implement routine surveillance into the healthcare system.