Slumping economy affects breast health for women

BY HEATHER WARLICK-MOORE Published: October 6, 2009
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The good news: Breast cancer deaths in the U.S. have declined in recent years. According to a new report from the American Cancer Society, deaths have declined about 2 percent per year since 1990.

The bad news is that for Oklahoma women, the nation’s economic downturn has had a negative affect on their breast health. In fact, said Jeananne Huffman, supervisor of the Mammography Center at Integris Southwest Medical Center, the decline in the number of women coming in for yearly mammograms has been striking.

"It’s a shame that it’s affecting so many people and their health,” she said. "We do see women that skip a year, skip two or three years and then they have a big fat breast cancer.”

This Breast Cancer Awareness month, breast cancer advocates all across the country are encouraging women to have their yearly mammograms, starting as early as age 35.

Actress and advocate Christina Applegate has talked openly about her battle with breast cancer since she was diagnosed in August 2008. Because she has a family history of breast cancer, Applegate said she had mammograms for years but credits an MRI for finding her cancer in a very early stage.

But Huffman pointed out that an MRI isn’t the most practical tool for diagnosing breast cancer in most women due to its high cost and the fact most insurance companies don’t cover it for diagnosing cancer.

"Mammography is the gold standard,” she said. "It is, for the general public, the best way to detect early breast cancer.”

She said that aside from most women being unable to afford yearly MRIs, there are other reasons it is not more commonly used to diagnose breast cancer. know it: Cancer



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Symptoms
Due to the increased use of mammography, most women are diagnosed at very early stages of breast cancer, before symptoms appear.

However, not all breast cancer is found through mammography. This list of the most common symptoms of breast cancer is from Susan G. Komen for the Cure ( www.komen.org):

→Lump, hard knot or thickening.

→Swelling, warmth, redness or darkening.

→Change in the size or shape of the breast.

→Dimpling or puckering of the skin

→Itchy, scaly sore or rash on the nipple.

→Pulling in of your nipple or other parts of the breast.

→Nipple discharge that starts suddenly.

→New pain in one spot that doesn’t go away.

Don’t take chances
If you have any of these symptoms, you should discuss them with your health care provider right away, according to information from the National Cancer Institute, American Cancer Society and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Although for most people these changes will turn out to be benign (not cancer), the only way to know for sure is to see your provider. For example, breast pain is more common with benign breast conditions than with breast cancer. However, if breast cancer is present, it is best to be diagnosed at an early stage, when the cancer is most treatable.

Free screenings
For women who can’t afford yearly mammograms, a program funded by the state Health Department can help. Take Charge! is a free breast and cervical cancer screening program available to Oklahoma women who meet the following criteria:

→Ages 40 through 64.

→Have no insurance, Medicare or Medicaid to cover the screening. (Exceptions are Medicare Part A only, private insurance with a high unmet deductible or co-payment of $150 or more.)

→Meet low-income guidelines.

For more information on the Take Charge! program, call the state Health Department at 271-5600.

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