Background: Low-income women utilize screening mammography less frequently, present at more advanced stages of disease, and have higher breast cancer mortality rates then women with higher incomes. The purpose of this study was to examine the relationship of reading ability to the knowledge and attitudes that low-income women have regarding screening mammography.
Methods: A convenience sample of 445 women were interviewed for this study. These women, age 40 years and older, had not had a mammogram in the past year. They were waiting to see a doctor in one of two outpatient clinics at Louisiana State University Medical Center in Shreveport when they were interviewed. A structured questionnaire assessed mammography knowledge and attitudes. Each patient's reading ability was assessed with the Rapid Estimate of Adult Literacy in Medicine (REALM).
Results: The women interviewed had a mean age of 56 years. Sixty-nine percent were African American, and 97% lived in households with annual incomes of less than $20,000. On the average, the highest grade completed in school was tenth grade. The average reading level was fourth to sixth grade, with 76% reading below a 9th-grade level. Lower reading ability correlated significantly with less mammography knowledge (P < 0.0001). A lack of accurate information about mammography was prevalent among low-level readers. Thirty-nine percent of women reading at or below a third-grade level did not know why women are given mammograms, compared with 12% of those reading at or above a ninth-grade level. Cost was a great concern in general, but cost concerns did not vary by reading level; 41% of all participants were very concerned about cost.
Conclusions: Limited literacy skills and lack of knowledge about screening mammography may contribute considerably to the underutilization of screening mammograms in low-income women. Screening for reading level may identify a subset of low-income patients who could benefit from specialized education. These results could help guide effective educational interventions and better provider-patient communication about screening mammography for low-literate, low-income women.