Breast Cancer Screening Is More Than Mammography Screening

October 6, 2014

Each October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the nation’s annual opportunity to commemorate those who have fought the disease, as well as recognize the advancements in breast cancer research and medical treatments that are helping patients survive the disease.

Breast cancer affects 1 out of every 8 women with or without a family history of the disease. With more than 4,400 new cases a year, breast cancer is one of the most diagnosed cancers among Georgia women.  The good news is that when identified early, breast cancer is highly treatable and women are surviving breast cancer at rates higher than ever before.

In an effort to reduce the impact of breast cancer on the lives of Georgians, the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) is proud to afford women greater access to screening and diagnostic services through an innovative program that provides vital health care and cancer treatment services.

The Breast and Cervical Cancer Program, which is funded by a combination of federal and state dollars, provides annual mammography screening to more than 20,000 low income women statewide between the ages of 40 and 64.  In partnership with the 18 health districts across the state and community health care providers, the program screens eligible women to detect cancers early.  And, women who are diagnosed with the disease are navigated to additional care and treatment through programs like Women’s Health Medicaid and the DPH’s Cancer State Aid. 

“Thanks to the hard work of many partners nationwide, women know about the benefits of mammography and about screening programs for the uninsured,” said Jean O’Connor, DrPH, DPH’s director of health promotion and disease prevention. “However, many women do not know that they can manage their risk for breast cancer and that screening for breast cancer should begin long before she receives her first mammogram.”

Screening and managing risk should begin around age 18 with an annual discussion between a woman and her health care provider about her family history of breast and ovarian cancer. By talking about family history and any diagnoses of breast or ovarian cancer in a woman’s family, they can determine if that woman should be screened for the BRCA gene mutations. Hereditary breast cancer represents 5 to 10 percent of all breast cancers. These gene mutations are associated with a higher risk for development of breast and ovarian cancer. If there is a family history, Georgia’s online tool for assessing breast cancer genetic risk, www.BreastCancerGeneScreen.org, can help a woman and her doctor determine whether a woman would benefit from a referral for genetic counseling.

Recommended by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), the Breast Cancer Gene Screen website was developed by the Georgia Center for Oncology Research and Education (CORE) in collaboration with the Georgia Department of Public Health. The Breast Referral Screening Tool (B-RST) was developed by Cecelia Bellcross, Ph.D., of Emory University and is located on this website. The USPSTF suggests the B-RST as an initial screening tool to be used by health care providers and public health practitioners across the nation to identify those women at higher risk for hereditary breast and ovarian cancer. 

To meet the need for genetic screening statewide, DPH, Georgia’s Public Health Districts, and Georgia CORE have launched a screening program to educate, support, and facilitate genetic testing for people at genetic risk for disease.  This program, which serves both uninsured and insured women, provides screening and genetic counseling by a genetic specialist when needed through a telehealth connection. 

In addition to leveraging the benefits of using modern technologies to detect and diagnosis breast cancer, Georgia women can also reduce their risk of the disease by following basic components of healthy living such as eating a nutritious diet, maintaining a healthy weight, getting adequate physical activity, breastfeeding, and reducing alcohol consumption and tobacco use. 

“There is a long road ahead in the fight against breast cancer,” said Dr. O’Connor. “With the ongoing partnership with both statewide and federal organizations, we will continue to make great strides in expanding cancer research, improving access to care for all breast cancer patients in Georgia and ultimately preventing the disease for future generations.”

Visit DPH’s Breast and Cervical Cancer Program online to access more information about the state’s breast cancer screening and treatment services. To evaluate your risk of hereditary breast cancer, complete the genetic testing survey at www.breastcancergenescreen.org.

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