October marks the 22nd anniversary of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and it is a time to remember those who lost their lives to the disease and support those who survive as we continue to move forward to do everything possible to treat and prevent this illness.
In its latest biennial report, the American Cancer Society notes that between 1990 and 2004, the annual death rate from breast cancer in women decreased 2.2 percent, a good sign. However, it is tempered by the fact that 2004 mortality rates for black women were 36 percent higher than for white women. The report also states that between 2001 and 2004, incidence rates for breast cancer decreased 3.5 percent a year, corresponding in part to a decrease in mammography screenings, meaning fewer women are being tested, which is troubling.
Eradicating breast cancer is a continuing battle, and mammography screenings play an important role in detecting tumors at an early stage when, according to the American Cancer Society, treatment may be more effective. In its report, the Society states that numerous randomized trials show that early detection of breast cancer using mammography screenings greatly improves treatment options and survival. This statistic suggests that measures like the landmark law I support mandating that insurers pay for annual mammography and cervical cancer screenings in women age 40 and older (Ch. 554 of 2002) can help with the fight against breast cancer.
It is also important to help protect those who survive breast cancer – about 2.4 million according to the latest 2004 statistic. That’s why I helped pass a law (Ch. 414 of 2005) creating outreach programs and wellness education on lymphedema – a chronic condition often occurring after cancer treatment, surgery or trauma. Health care facilities are encouraged to place a bright pink wrist band on a patient’s affected arm, so it is not used for blood pressure screenings, intravenous infusion injections or blood tests.
Additional initiatives can also protect women in New York. This year, I supported legislation the Assembly passed to:
- provide funding to map incidence of breast cancer from the Breast Cancer Research and Education Fund to encourage more innovative mapping proposals produced by the Department of Health (A.850);
- expand membership of the Health Research Science Board to include six new members who have or have had breast cancer from six geographic regions of the state to give wider voice to breast cancer concerns (Ch. 621 of 2007);
- provide county and municipal employees with four hours annual leave for prostate and breast cancer screenings (Ch. 111 of 2007);
- allow community-based groups, which provide counseling, education and outreach services to persons with breast cancer, to receive funding through the Breast Cancer Detection and Education Advisory Council (Ch. 623 of 2007); and
- specify that the state will match all money dedicated to the Breast Cancer Research and Education Fund, including any gifts, bequests or grants (Ch. 385 of 2007).
A diagnosis of breast cancer can be frightening and traumatic. The Society estimates 180,510 new cases of invasive breast cancer – 178,480 of these cases in women – will be diagnosed this year, and 40,910 men and women will die from the disease. Breast cancer is second among cancer deaths in woman, after lung cancer. Early screenings can help save lives, and breast cancer survivors require ongoing monitoring to detect recurrence, a constant risk. The following support groups can provide information that may help ease anxiety:
- National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program (NBCCEDP) at 1-800-CDC-INFO or 1-800-232-4636 or www.cdc.gov/cancer/nbccedp/;
- Adelphi New York Statewide Breast Cancer Hotline and Support Program at 1-800-877-8077 or www.adelphi.edu/nysbreastcancer/.
Early diagnosis and other preventive measures, along with the right treatment, can help save lives. I urge all women to take every possible step to protect themselves from the threat of this disease. Please contact my office at 718-266-0267 for more information on early detection programs and outreach programs for breast cancer survivors.