October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month!

By Indu Gupta, Commissioner of Health
Contributing Author: Emily Young, Public Health Educator, Cancer Services Program

A few years ago, my close friend called me in a panic and informed me that her mammogram was abnormal. She was tearful because she was asked to have more tests. She was very concerned about cancer. I offered to take her for additional testing the following day because I wanted to be supportive – I thought! Actually it was more for me, because I wanted to tell her that everything will be okay. She was diagnosed with and treated for breast cancer in a timely manner and is now doing well. Over the years, I have had to inform patients of their abnormal mammograms and refer them to surgeons and oncologists for further care. It is difficult and emotionally draining at times. But in the final analysis, early detection, treatment, and a favorable outcome is the best reward of being a doctor.

Pink Ribbon GraphicOctober is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The American Cancer Society reports that about 1 in 8 (12%) women in the US will develop invasive breast cancer during their lifetime. Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women, except for skin cancers. Early detection is the key as it was for my dear friend because early diagnosis and treatment improves outcomes.  Death rates from breast cancer have been steadily declining but this disease still remains the second leading cause of cancer death for women.

So I am calling out to all women: Please check with your healthcare provider to see if you are due for a mammogram and if so schedule it today! Your primary care doctor can make a referral. Being uninsured is not a barrier. The Onondaga County Cancer Services Program can help. We will connect you with providers, who will perform clinical breast exams and mammograms at no charge to you. For women aged 40 to 64 free screenings are offered at healthcare provider sites throughout the city of Syracuse and Onondaga County. This program has helped diagnose breast cancer at early stages and in doing so, has been able to serve our mission.

Emily Young, Public Health Educator for the Cancer Services Program shared one of her experiences from the field.

A few years ago, I met a woman at CNY works, a local unemployment center. She had been unemployed and without health insurance for quite some time. She then told me that she had not been screened for breast cancer in the past because of all these hardships. She was interested in having a mammogram after I explained to her our Cancer Services Program at the Health Department. I took down all of the necessary information and scheduled her for a mammogram. Unfortunately, her mammogram was reported to be abnormal. She was recommended for additional testing, which confirmed her worst fear…breast cancer. For her, everything was falling apart- she was unemployed, uninsured, and now was diagnosed with breast cancer. The Case Manager of our Cancer Services Program assisted her in signing up for the Medicaid Cancer Treatment Program, which would cover the cost of her treatments.

This is just one of the many women who have been helped by the Health Department’s Cancer Services Program. Whether you have health insurance or not, the bottom line is that having a mammogram may save your life. Routine screenings are a vital step in the early detection of breast cancer. I am going to call to schedule my mammogram, won’t you please do the same?

Resource: American Cancer Society  http://www.cancer.org/cancer/breastcancer/detailedguide/index