Focus on Wellness: Breast Cancer
Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers among women in New York State, and nationally, is the leading cause of cancer deaths in women between the ages of 15 and 54. The single most important factor in the successful treatment of cancer is early detection. My colleagues in the Senate and I have fought to pass legislation that ensures New York women have access to simple tests that can detect cancer. This online brochure explains your legal rights as a health care consumer and also contains important information about breast cancer tests and screenings.
Health care has always been a priority for the Senate. We will continue our efforts to make sure that, in this fast paced world of health care reform, quality patient care is never sacrificed.
Risk Factors For Breast Cancer
There are certain characteristics that are associated with getting breast cancer: * age - 77% of all breast cancer cases occur in women age 50 and older;
* beginning menstrual periods before age twelve;
* late age when menopause (change of life) begins;
* history of breast cancer in a close relative, such as a mother or sister;
* never giving birth;
* first giving birth after age thirty; or
* High radiation exposure to the breasts, which would occur if a woman had tuberculosis (TB) or scoliosis (curvature of the spine) and had many X-rays taken.
A mammography or a mammogram is an X-ray of the breast tissue. A "screening" mammogram is one that is done when you do not have any symptoms. This test can detect very small changes you cannot feel when examining your breast.
A mammogram can find a lump up to two years before it would be large enough to be felt. It is important to know that a mammogram, like most medical tests, is not fool-proof. Therefore, it is important to perform breast self-examination as well as obtain regular mammographies.
New York State and federal law require mammography providers to meet certain standards. To ensure your mammogram is of good quality and interpreted properly, you should:
* make sure the facility is certified by the federal Food and Drug Administration; * ask when the facility was last inspected by the New York State or New York City Department of Health;
* choose a facility that performs a high number of mammograms;
* make sure the doctor who reads the mammogram has a lot of experience with mammography; and
* have the results of the mammogram sent in writing to your doctor.
The American Cancer Society recommends that every woman have a baseline mammogram by age 40, and a screening mammography every year thereafter. However, every woman should consult her doctor about this issue.
Insurance Coverage For Mammography
New York State law requires many insurance companies to pay for mammograms. The Women's Health Law requires insurance companies to pay for an initial baseline mammogram for women between the ages of 35 and 39, and annual mammograms for women 40 and up, or more frequently upon a doctor's recommendation. Women who have difficulty meeting costs for breast exams, because of high insurance deductibles, will be provided free screenings through the Healthy Women Partnership Program, which is offered through the New York State Department of Health. For more information, visit the Health Department online at: www.health.state.ny.us.
Medicaid is both a state and federally administered program. If you receive health benefits under the State's Medicaid program, Medicaid does pay for screening mammographies. For more information about Medicaid and how to apply, contact your local department of social services.
Medicare is a federally operated program. It is the federal health insurance program for persons 65 years of age or older as well as certain disabled people.
Under this program, a portion of the cost of a mammography screening is covered. Disabled women over age 35 are covered according to a schedule, as are women who already show symptoms such as a lump. For more information, go to: www.medicare.gov on the Internet or call the Social Security Administration at 1-800-772-1213.
Physical Breast Examination
If you are over age 40, you should have a physical breast exam performed every year by your physician or other trained health professionals. If you are between the ages of 20 and 40, this should be done once every three years. All women should do monthly breast self-examinations (BSE). Ask your health professional to instruct you and provide you with information on BSE.
Healthy Women Partnerships
The New York State Breast Cancer Detection and Education Program uses state and federal funds to provide breast and cervical cancer education and screening to low-income, uninsured and underserved women.
Eligible low-income women over 40 years of age who have no health insurance or are underinsured may receive early detection and diagnostic services. For more information about the Healthy Women Partnership nearest you, call the Cancer Information Service toll-free at 1-800-4cancer (1-800-422-6237). Ask for the public contact name and phone number for the county in which you live. You can also get more information by visiting the State Health Department online at: www.health.state.ny.us.
Legislative Efforts to Fight Breast Cancer
The Senate sponsored a health research and pesticide reporting bill, now law, that helps fight breast cancer and dramatically improves public health research efforts in New York State.
The legislation also improved breast cancer research and education efforts in New York State by creating personal and corporate income tax gift check-offs. These check-offs provide a dedicated and recurring revenue stream to help fight breast cancer. In 2002, legislation was enacted to provide State funds to match moneys generated through the tax check-off program.
The Senate has made great strides in addressing the needs of those living with breast cancer. Continuing in those successes, New York State Budget includes an additional allotment for the Senate's breast cancer survivors' initiative. The funds continue support for strategic programs that help local organizations provide support, education, and outreach to those diagnosed with breast cancer.
The Women's Health and Wellness law closes several loopholes that limited some women's access to early detection screenings for breast and cervical cancer.
In addition, New York State Women's Health and Cancer Rights Act guarantees a woman and her doctor the right to determine how long she will stay in a hospital after undergoing a mastectomy, lumpectomy or lymph node dissection surgery. Health insurance must include coverage for a second opinion for breast cancer patients and payment for all stages of breast reconstruction procedures after medically necessary surgery.
The American Cancer Society provides information and resources through a variety of sources, including its web site: and the National Cancer Information Center: 1-800-ACS-2345.