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Published March 28, 2013, 11:30 PM

Hot Topics: Cutting copays may increase women’s cancer screening

NEW YORK – More women may get screened for breast and cervical cancers if they don’t have to pay for the tests, according to a new study from Japan.

By: Reuters, INFORUM

NEW YORK – More women may get screened for breast and cervical cancers if they don’t have to pay for the tests, according to a new study from Japan.

A year after the Japanese government started picking up the tab for Pap smears and mammograms for certain groups of women, the percentage of eligible women who got screened nearly doubled compared to a few years earlier when most women had to pay for screenings.

“This is consistent with prior research. We know that imposing out-of-pocket costs for screenings – including cancer screening services – deter their use,” said Dr. Amal Trivedi, who was not involved with the new research but has studied cancer screening use.

The new study may also suggest that more U.S. women will get screened for cancer now that many of those services are covered under the 2010 Affordable Care Act, said Trivedi, from Brown University in Providence, R.I.

But he added that it’s hard to know exactly how the results of the program in Japan would apply to the U.S. because the two health care systems are different from each other.

To encourage women to be screened for breast and cervical cancers, and to target specific socioeconomic and age groups who were not generally going in for screening, the Japanese government in 2009 began giving women vouchers to get free Pap smears and mammograms every five years.

Younger women were invited to get Pap smears when they turned 20 years old and every five years after that. Women were also invited to get mammograms every five years starting when they turned 40.

In contrast, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, a government-backed advisory group, recommends screening for cervical cancer in women ages 21 to 65 years every three years. Or, a Pap smear and human papillomavirus test every five years. The USPSTF also recommends women get mammograms every other year from age 50 to 74 years, but they may choose to get screened earlier.

To see whether eliminating the cost of screenings increased their use, the researchers, led by Takahiro Tabuchi of the Osaka Medical Center for Cancer and Cardiovascular Diseases, analyzed data from a survey that collects health information on Japanese citizens every three years.

Overall, they had information for more than 34,000 women.

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