The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is recognizing Breast Cancer Awareness Month this October by asking all female Veterans to talk with their health care providers about appropriate breast cancer screenings, such as regular mammograms.
"The Department of Veterans Affairs has an outstanding breast screening program," said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. "I urge all women Veterans to talk to their providers during Breast Cancer Awareness Month about receiving the appropriate screening."
Both men and women can develop breast cancer, though male breast cancer is rare. In women, breast cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death and the odds that a woman will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime are one in eight.
The good news is that the overall five-year survival rate from breast cancer is nearly 90 percent. If the cancer is caught while it is still located only in the breast, the survival rate increases to nearly 99 percent.
A regular mammogram, or x-ray of the breast, is one of the most effective ways to detect breast cancer early. VA excels at breast cancer screenings, outperforming private health care systems, with 87 percent of eligible women receiving screening mammograms. However, VA is concerned that every woman get appropriate screening.
Veterans can talk with their VA health care providers. The VA directory, www.va.gov/directory, helps Veterans find their nearest facility. Non-Veterans can find local screening resources through the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's early detection program at www.cdc.gov/cancer/nbccedp.
"Mammograms can detect breast cancer early, and early detection makes a big difference in a woman's chance of surviving," said Dr. Stacy Garrett-Ray, VA's deputy director of comprehensive women's health. "If you're over 40 years old, talk with your provider about the best screening methods for you."
In line with national guidelines, VA encourages all women between ages 50 and 75 to get mammograms every two years. Women ages 40 to 50 and those older than 75 should talk with their providers about the risks and benefits of having mammograms and make a decision based on their individual risk factors.
Although rare, a younger woman can also get breast cancer. Any change from normal should be checked out by a health care provider.
Breast cancer risk factors include getting older, having a close family member with breast cancer, being overweight or obese, previous radiation therapy/exposure to the breasts or chest, not exercising, and having certain gene mutations. Having these risk factors does not mean that a woman will develop breast cancer, but they should be brought to the attention of her health care provider.
Although October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, VA wants women to focus on their health all year round. For more information about women's health topics, visit www.womenshealth.va.gov and click on "Wellness & Healthy Living."
Women Veterans are one of the fastest growing segments of the Veteran population. Of the 22.7 million living Veterans, more than 1.8 million are women. They comprise nearly 8 percent of the total Veteran population and 6 percent of all Veterans who use VA health care services.
VA estimates women Veterans will constitute 10 percent of the Veteran population by 2020 and 9.5 percent of VA patients.
A Women Veterans Program Manager is designated to assist women Veterans at each VA Medical Center nationwide. They are available to help coordinate all services, from primary care to medical services to Mental Health and Sexual Abuse Counseling.
To learn more about breast cancer, please visit: www.cdc.gov/cancer/breast and www.healthline.com/health/breast-cancer.
For more information about VA programs and services for women Veterans, please visit: www.va.gov/womenvet and www.womenshealth.va.gov.