For more than 25 years, National Breast Cancer Awareness Month has been a time to reaffirm our commitment to fighting breast cancer and to remind ourselves of the importance of prevention and early detection. Breast cancer remains one of the most frequently diagnosed cancers among American women and despite remarkable advances in treatment and prevention, it remains the second leading cause of cancer death. This year alone, it is estimated that more than 230,000 U.S. women will be diagnosed with breast cancer and nearly 40,000 will die of the disease.
Regular mammography screening can help lower breast cancer mortality by finding breast cancer early, when the chance of successful treatment is best. If 90 percent of women 40 and older received breast cancer screening, 3,700 lives would be saved each year. Costs, even moderate co-pays, deter many patients from receiving these important screenings. Under the Affordable Care Act, women's preventive health care -- such as mammograms and screenings for cervical cancer -- is covered with no co-pays or other out-of-pocket costs.
In addition to regular mammography screening, there are steps that women can take that may help reduce their risk of developing breast cancer. Women should talk with their doctor about their personal risk for breast cancer, when to start having mammograms, and how often to have them. Women should also try to maintain a healthy weight, exercise regularly, and reduce their intake of alcohol. If a woman is found to be at increased risk of breast cancer because of her medical history or a known high-risk gene mutation, she should talk with her doctor to decide what her best options are to reduce breast cancer risk might be. With the release of new Women's Preventive Services Guidelines, a well-woman visit is available to women to have an opportunity to discuss her health care needs with her medical provider--at no additional cost to her.
The Affordable Care Act is also helping women who are going or have gone through costly breast cancer treatment. Beginning in 2014, it will be illegal for insurance companies to discriminate against anyone with a pre-existing condition. In the past, insurance companies could deny coverage to women due to pre-existing conditions such as breast cancer, and if coverage was attained, insurance companies set lifetime and annual limits on what the companies would spend for benefits. We have done away with lifetime limits, offering women the peace of mind that their health insurance will be available when women need it most. We are also phasing out the use of annual dollar limits over the next three years until 2014 when the Affordable Care Act bans them for most plans.
These changes are making real differences in the lives of American women and families. Prevention, coupled with continued research, will help save more lives and improve the quality of life for all of us touched by breast cancer.