Each year, National Breast Cancer Awareness Month focuses our attention on the burden of breast cancer in our society and reminds us that there are things women can do to help detect this disease earlier, when it may be most treatable, and, possibly, to reduce the risk that it will occur in the first place. Breast cancer is the most frequently diagnosed cancer -- other than skin cancer -- among women in the United States and the second-leading cause of cancer death. This year alone, it is estimated that 207,000 American women will be diagnosed with breast cancer and nearly 40,000 will die from the disease.
Research has shown that regular screening mammography can help lower the number of deaths from breast cancer for many women. Due to the introduction of widespread screening as well as advances in treatment, the breast cancer death rate in the United States declined by approximately 26 percent between 1975 and 2007.
Beginning at age 40, all women should consider having mammograms every one to two years. A family history of the disease, radiation therapy to the chest for a previous cancer, treatment with menopausal hormone therapy, and obesity may all increase a woman's risk of breast cancer. Each woman should talk with her healthcare provider to determine her personal risk for breast cancer and what screening schedule is best for her. Women should also try to maintain a healthy weight and exercise regularly. Taking these measures may help reduce the risk of developing breast cancer.
The Affordable Care Act, signed into law earlier this year, makes breast cancer screening and coverage for treatment available and accessible by requiring health plans to cover preventive services and eliminate cost-sharing and by making health coverage more affordable and accessible for women.
If you or your family enrolled in a new health plan on or after September 23, 2010, that plan will be required to cover recommended preventive services without charging you a copayment or deductible. This includes annual screening mammograms for women starting at age 40. The Affordable Care Act will also help ensure that people who have been diagnosed with breast cancer get the quality, affordable health care they deserve. Unfortunately, women with breast cancer are often forced to make decisions based on their finances instead of what is best for their health. For example, those with cancer are more likely to reach lifetime insurance policy benefit limits than individuals without cancer, leaving them vulnerable when they need coverage the most.
Starting this year, the Affordable Care Act prohibits insurance companies from imposing lifetime dollar limits on essential benefits, which will help women with breast cancer continue to get the care they need. Beginning in 2014, insurance companies will no longer be able to deny women coverage because of a pre-existing condition like breast cancer. And, in the individual and small group markets, the law eliminates the ability of insurance companies to charge higher rates due to gender or health status. At the same time, an estimated 32 million Americans will obtain health insurance, and many women with breast cancer who have trouble affording health insurance coverage will qualify for tax credits that will reduce their health insurance premiums and out-of-pocket expenses.
Through all these important initiatives to promote health and prevent disease, and through ongoing research, we will be able to save more lives and improve the quality of life for all Americans with breast cancer.