Healthcare Reform Promotes Breast Cancer Awareness Among Younger Women

New healthcare law provides grants to help breast cancer patients aged 15 to 44. One little-discussed provision in the healthcare reform law is designed to increase awareness of breast cancer risk in young women aged 15 to 44.   Under the law, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will create educational campaigns to focus on breast cancer risk in young women and to promote prevention and early detection  Additionally, the law provides grants to groups that help young women with breast cancer, and directs the National Institutes of Health to develop new screening tests aimed at enhancing early detection.  The law provides $9 million for these efforts on a yearly basis between 2010 and 2014.

Just 10 percent of the approximately 250,000 women who are diagnosed with breast cancer annually are aged 45 or younger, according to the American Cancer Society.  Breast cancer tends to be more aggressive in younger women, with an 83 percent five-year survival rate, compared with 90 percent for women older than 45.  The lower survival rate for younger breast cancer patients is partly due to deferred diagnoses and a lack of screening because of the low incidence.  Mammograms of younger women’s breasts can be hard to read because the tissue is often too dense to be evaluated effectively by X-ray.

The advocacy group Young Survival Coalition encourages women to act quickly if they notice a change in their breasts.  “Be familiar with the look, feel and shape of your breasts, so that if something develops you’re aware of it,” said Stacy Lewis, the group’s vice president of programming.  “If you see a change, go see a doctor, and if you’re told that it’s probably nothing, go to another provider.”

The healthcare reform law’s most significant provisions related to breast cancer in younger women may be those that encourage research.  Because screening women before age 40 isn’t always practical, identifying young women who are at risk is vital, said Dr. Therese Bevers, medical director of the cancer prevention center at the MD Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas in Houston.  “We’ve got to have a way of picking out the right young women,” she said. “Otherwise we’ll miss cases.”

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