By Angela Reed-Smith
Too many of our families have been touched in some way by breast cancer. A mother, a sister, an aunt, a best friend, a neighbor. So many of the people we love have struggled with this disease in some way. In 2012, about 227,000 women in the U.S. will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer, and about 40,000 women will die of the disease.
When we talk about breast cancer, we often focus on women over 40. But factors other than age also determine who is at risk for breast cancer — and whose life may be at risk as a result of a diagnosis that comes too late.
At Planned Parenthood, we serve three million patients each year and are constantly reminded that women of all ages need to be vigilant in the fight against breast cancer. By learning as a younger woman the importance of breast health, how making healthy lifestyle choices can reduce their likelihood of developing breast cancer, and possible signs of trouble, we’re empowering generations of women.
Unfortunately, too many women don’t know until it is too late. Most don’t know, for example, that while breast cancer is rare in young women, those who do develop it are more likely to be diagnosed at a later stage and less likely to survive the disease than older women. Many African-American women aren’t aware that they have the highest incident of breast cancer before age 40, and many Latinas don’t realize that breast cancer is their leading cause of cancer death. And studies show that low-income women are less likely to survive their breast cancers than higher-income women.
Breast-health education and clinical breast exams are the first steps toward women learning their own risk factors and becoming empowered to take control of their health. In fact, clinical breast exams are the best way for most women under the age of 40 to identify potential problems early.
At Planned Parenthood, our doctors and nurses provide lifesaving breast screenings to more than 750,000 patients across the United States annually, helping women detect potential breast cancer, and reassuring them when abnormalities are benign. If needed, we able to refer patients to low-cost, and in some case no-cost, diagnostic services and treatment. We help patients navigate the often very complicated health care system if they need additional care, and we stay in touch with them the whole time to make sure they are supported, and have the answers they need.
For many patients, we are the only visit to a health care provider they will have this year, providing the only opportunity they have for detecting a potentially life-threatening breast cancer. Still, many women in our community have an unmet need for breast health care.
For more information visit planned.org or call 1-888-743-7526.
Angela Reed-Smith is the Senior Vice President of Patient Services at Planned Parenthood of the Pacific Southwest.