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Need a mammogram in Costa Rica? Get in line

June 4, 2012

A recent report asserts that thousands of women in Costa Rica are waiting to receive a mammogram from the Social Security System (Caja). The problem is so prevalent in the country that patients can wait up to two years for an appointment, according to statistics released Monday by the National Union of Caja Employees (UNDECA).

Almost 53,800 women are waiting for a mammogram, UNDECA statistics showed. The mammogram is a tool used to detect and diagnose breast cancer, the most common type of cancer in women in Costa Rica.

The UNDECA statement said the reason for the logjam is that many hospitals have mammogram machines that are old or no longer work.

María Eugenia Villalta, a Caja medical manager, denied to various media that the waits were as severe as what UNDECA claimed, although she did not provide figures proving otherwise.

A press release from the Caja stated that the organization did 90,000 mammograms in 2011, and the number of mammograms performed increased 24 percent between 2008 and 2011.

Villalta said the situation is improving, and the Caja in recent years bought 14 new mammography machines and hired 26 new radiologists. She said the Caja plans to hire 22 more in the upcoming year. She also said the reason some women might not be receiving mammograms more regularly is because it’s only necessary to receive a checkup every two years.

The American Cancer Society recommends yearly mammograms beginning at age 40. However, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends the procedure every two years, starting at age 50 A recent study stated frequent mammograms lead to “over-diagnosis” of breast cancer, meaning that the breast cancer detected is so minimal it is unlikely to cause harm throughout a woman’s lifetime. Therefore, a patient receives treatment and tests they do not actually need.

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