Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers among women in New York State, and nationally, is the leading cause of cancer deaths in women between the ages of 15 and 54. The single most important factor in the successful treatment of cancer is early detection. October is designated as Breast Cancer Awareness Month in order to highlight the importance of early detection and remind women to get screened annually.
There are certain characteristics that are associated with breast cancer: age, beginning menstrual periods before age 12; having a late age when starting menopause; history of breast cancer in the family; never giving birth; first giving birth after the age of 30; and high radiation exposure to the breast, which might occur if a woman had tuberculosis or scoliosis and had many X-rays taken.
The American Cancer Society recommends that every woman have a baseline mammogram by the age of 40, and a screening mammography every year thereafter. A mammography or mammogram is an X-ray of the breast tissue. A screening mammogram is one that is done when the person does not have any symptoms. This test can detect very small changes that a woman cannot feel during a self-examination. A mammogram can find a lump up to two years before it would be large enough to be felt. It is important to know that a mammogram, like most medical tests, is not fool-proof. Therefore, it is important to perform breast self-examination as well as obtain regular mammographies.
New York State and federal law require mammography providers to meet certain standards. To ensure your mammogram is of good quality and interpreted properly, you should:
* Make sure the facility is certified by the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
* Ask when the facility was last inspected by the State;
* Choose a facility that performs a high number of mammograms.
New York State law requires most insurance companies to pay for mammograms. The Women's Health Law requires insurance companies to pay for an initial baseline mammogram for women between the ages of 35 and 39, and annual mammograms for women age 40 and up, or more frequently upon a doctor's recommendation.
In 1996, the State Legislature and Governor George E. Pataki created a voluntary income tax gift "check-off." These check-offs provide a dedicated and recurring revenue stream to help fight breast cancer. In 2002, legislation was enacted to provide State funds to match moneys generated through the tax check-off.
For more information on breast cancer, and programs available in New York State, I have a free brochure that can be obtained by calling 455-2181 (Albany), 843-2188 (Amsterdam), 762-3733 (Johnstown) or toll-free at (800) 224-5201.