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Cancer screening has been a contentious issue in recent years. Even by government-backed U.S. Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF) standards, which some consider to be relatively conservative, screening rates for breast and cervical cancer were low in the study. Only about half of women in the Oregon-based research met USPSTF recommendations.
"People in rural areas tend to go to the doctor only when they are ill, so they don't get the chance to talk about cancer screenings," said Dr. Patricia Carney, a researcher at Oregon Health and Science University, Portland, who led the study.
Previous studies have shown that screening rates are lower among the uninsured, but that research has focused on people in towns and cities.
For the new study, partially funded by the American Cancer Society (ACS), researchers analyzed a decade of medical charts at two private health practices, and two federally funded public health centers in rural Oregon. The study included more than 3,000 men and women, all aged 55 or over when the study began.
They found that about 10 percent of patients lacked insurance coverage. Those with coverage had either private insurance, or a combination of private insurance, Medicare and Medicaid. The insurance status of about 16 percent of patients was unknown.
According to the report in the journal Cancer, people with private insurance were much more likely to be up-to-date for some ACS recommended cancer screenings than people without insurance.
While 56 percent of women with insurance went without recommended mammograms, which the ACS recommends beginning at age 40, 78 percent of uninsured women, and 70 percent of those with Medicare or Medicaid, did.