Women in medically vulnerable populations, including racial and ethnic minorities, the socioeconomically disadvantaged, and residents of rural areas, experience higher breast cancer mortality than do others. Whether mammography facilities that treat vulnerable women demonstrate lower quality of care than other facilities is unknown.
To assess the quality of mammography women receive at facilities characterized as serving a high proportion of medically vulnerable populations.
We prospectively collected self-reported breast cancer risk factor information, mammography interpretations, and cancer outcomes on 1,579,929 screening mammography examinations from 750,857 women, aged 40–80 years, attending any of 151 facilities in the Breast Cancer Surveillance Consortium, between 1998 and 2004. To classify facilities as serving medically vulnerable populations, we used 4 criteria: educational attainment, racial/ethnic minority, household income, and rural/urban residence.
After adjustment for patient-level factors known to effect mammography accuracy, facilities serving vulnerable populations had significantly higher mammography specificity than did other facilities: ie, those serving women who were minorities [odds ratio (OR): 1.32; 95% confidence interval (CI): 1.01–1.73], living in rural areas (1.45; 1.15–1.73), and with lower household income (1.33; 1.05–1.68). We observed no statistically significant differences between facilities in mammography sensitivity.
Facilities serving high proportions of vulnerable populations provide screening mammography with equal or better quality (as reflected in higher specificity with no corresponding decrease in sensitivity) than other facilities. Further research is needed to understand the mechanisms underlying these findings.