Mammo work force shortages could threaten breast cancer early detection rates

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The aging of the U.S. population will take a toll on the ability of healthcare providers to deliver mammography screening in a timely manner; according to data presented in the February issue of the American Journal of Roentgenology, drastic reductions in the number of mammography professionals over the next 20 years could impact service delivery.

The forecasts were developed using an age cohort flow model based on data provided by the American College of Radiology (ACR) on the numbers and age distribution of radiologists and on data provided by the American Society of Radiologic Technologists (ASRT) on radiologic technologists providing mammography services.

Based on the results of the study, performed at the Center for Health and Workforce Studies at the Albany School of Public Health in Rensselaer, N.Y., the authors have forecasted that by 2010, there will be approximately 20.6 radiologists per 100,000 women age 40 years and older and in 2025 only 17.5 radiologists per 100,000 women age 40 years and older. That compares to 20.6 radiologists per 100,000 women in 2005.

"The critical issue is maintaining a sufficient work force to meet the growing needs of the breast imaging field. The data clearly show that the number of women 40 years and older is going to grow dramatically over the next 20 years," said Margaret Langelier and Paul Wing, lead authors of the study. "Part of the problem with mammography, unlike other care than can be provided through telecommunication, it requires hands on participation of workers."

The study also forecasted that in 2010 it is estimated that there will be 32.4 technologists per 100,000 women 40 years and older and in 2025 only 22.4 technologists per 100,000 women 40 and over. That compares to 37.1 technologists per 100,000 women in 2005. The forecasting model used during the study is based on data provided by the ACR and the ASRT.

"What we need to do is focus on being able to sustain what we have built, but without a sufficient number of radiologists and radiologic techs who specialize in breast imaging, breast cancer mortality rates could increase," said Langelier and Wing.