Study: Travel Times Are Still a Major Obstacle for Women Seeking Breast Cancer Screening

In 10 states, the data showed more than 26% of women had limited accessibility to mammography, primarily in the Rocky Mountains and the South.

Travel time to the nearest mammography facility is still considerable for many women seeking breast cancer screenings in the United States, according to a new study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute and led by researchers at the American Cancer Society.

In particular, travel times affect more than 50% of women in rural areas in 28 states, the study found. This poor accessibility was associated with a lower number of women getting important breast cancer screening.

“Our findings are concerning,” said senior scientist Daniel Wiese, PhD, in a press release. “We need to move forward on programs to remove these barriers so women can access this potentially life-saving screening.”

In the study, researchers obtained mammography location data in the contiguous United States in 2006 and 2022 from the FDA. Investigators then estimated the number and proportion of women aged 45 to 84 years who had limited travel-time-based geographic accessibility (defined as a drive time greater than 20 minutes) to the nearest mammography facility by urban-rural status and state from 2006 to 2022. They then evaluated associations between limited accessibility and breast cancer screening prevalence by state.

According to the study, the proportion of women nationwide with limited accessibility to mammography remains high. This proportion did not substantially change from 2006 (12.7%) to 2022 (12.2%). However, due to population growth, the estimated number of women struggling with limited accessibility increased from 7.5 million to 8.2 million during that time.

In 10 states, the data showed more than 26% of women had limited accessibility to mammography, primarily in the Rocky Mountains and the South. With the exception of a few states in New England and the mid-Atlantic regions, limited accessibility to mammography was substantial in rural areas (greater than 50% in 28 states), with the highest proportions in the Rocky Mountains region. In urban areas, this proportion was less than 5% in 35 states. The largest improvements were in South Dakota and Mississippi, where limited accessibility declined by 5.1% and 4.8%, respectively.

“The simple answer would be to open more breast cancer screening facilities in sparsely populated areas, but this can be economically and logistically challenging,” Wiese said in the press release. “Providing transportation or promoting the use of mobile screening units may be alternative actions, although further research is needed to improve the effectiveness of mobile screening units in increasing participation in breast cancer screening in rural areas.”


Travel Time for Breast Cancer Screening Remains Long for Many Women in the US, New Study Shows. News release. American Cancer Society; December 14, 2022. Accessed December 20, 2022.

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