Aging Well: Programs help pay for mammograms, treatment costs

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Mammogram resources

■ The Women’s Wellness Connection provides eligible women ages 40 to 64 free annual clinical breast exams, Pap tests/pelvic exams and also mammograms if they are at high risk for or show symptoms of cancer or are 50 to 64. For more information, call the VNA at 970-879-1632 in Steamboat or 970-824-8233 in Craig. To find out if you qualify for the free tests, visit www.womenswellnessconnection.org.

■ The Yampa Valley Breast Cancer Awareness Project pays for mammograms and helps pay for costs related to cancer treatment (not surgery) for women who may not qualify for other programs. For more information, call 970-871-2464.

Bust of Steamboat

The Bust of Steamboat is a primary fundraiser for the Yampa Valley Breast Cancer Awareness Project. The event and reception feature a live auction of bras decorated by artists and other items. The event is from 5 to 8 p.m. Oct. 29 at Three Peaks Grill. The cost is $25 in advance or $30 at the door. For more information, call 970-846-4554 or visit www.thebustofsteamboat.org.

Editor’s note: This article originally was published Oct. 19, 2009. It has been updated for accuracy.

Most of us are guilty of putting off important health screenings or procedures. Often, that resistance has more to do with cost than laziness.

For example, mammograms — X-rays of the breast used to detect breast cancer — typically cost between $200 and $300.

That is more than many women can pay, even for a life-saving tool.

These women should know there are local programs available to help them pay for breast cancer and other important screenings, and even for costs related to breast cancer treatment.

Resources

The Women’s Wellness Connection provides eligible, low-income women of ages 40 to 64 with free annual Pap tests, pelvic exams and clinical breast exams. Free mammograms also are available if these women are at high risk for, or have symptoms of, breast cancer, or are between the ages of 50 to 64.

The Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association is a local provider of the program.

Women in Routt and Moffat counties who don’t qualify for the Women’s Wellness Connection can turn to the Yampa Valley Breast Cancer Awareness Project.

In its 10th year, the project uses money from fundraisers such as the upcoming Bust of Steamboat to pay for mammograms, Pap tests and blood tests.

The program also helps with costs related to breast cancer treatment as well as groceries and essentials women might not be able to pay for if they can’t work.

“What we’re finding is more women are underinsured and uninsured, and that’s what we are trying to fill in,” said Jan Fritz, one of eight women coordinating the Yampa Valley Breast Cancer Awareness Project.

“We don’t ask a lot of questions about what resources they have,” said Fritz, who also directs cancer services at Yampa Valley Medical Center. “It’s just a phone interview about their situation.”

Risk and screening

Breast cancer is the second most common cancer among women, behind skin cancer.

Having one or two risk factors doesn’t mean a woman will get breast cancer, but understanding her risk profile will help her and her doctor plan steps that might reduce her chances of getting the disease or detect it early, when it is most easily treatable.

Other than being a woman (less than 1 percent of cases occur in men) risk factors include being older, having a history of breast cancer (which can return) or noncancer breast disease (which can predispose a person to cancer) or having a mother, sister, daughter or two or more close relatives with the disease.

Scientists also have identified “breast cancer genes.” One out of two women with a rare mutation of these genes is likely to develop the disease. Women with a family history of breast cancer might consider speaking with their doctor or a genetics counselor about the pros and cons of genetic testing.

Some risk factors involve estrogen, which does not cause breast cancer but might encourage the growth of cancer cells. When a woman began menstruating, her age during her first pregnancy, whether or not she had children and any use of hormone replacement therapy might influence her breast cancer risk.

Lifestyle choices such as eating healthy, exercising regularly, not smoking and limiting alcohol intake might help prevent breast cancer or other cancers that could spread to the breast as well as other chronic conditions.

The American Cancer Society emphasizes that the combined use of multiple tools — regular mammograms, MRI (in women at high risk), clinical breast exams and finding and reporting breast changes — offer women the best chances for detecting breast cancer early.

Beginning in her 20s, a woman should conduct regular breast self exams so she knows how her breasts typically look and can quickly notice any changes.

Women in their 20s and 30s also should have a clinical breast exam as part of a regular wellness check at least every three years.

Beginning at the age of 40, women should have clinical breast exams and mammograms annually, according to the American Cancer Society.

The U.S. Preventative Services Task Force challenged this recommendation late last year by advising women not to start regular breast screenings until age 50. Their reasoning focused on the anxiety caused by false positives and overtreatment.

The ensuing debate might be quieted, however, by recent data from a large Swedish study showing a 29 percent reduction in breast cancer deaths among women who received regular mammograms between the ages of 40 and 49.

The study was published online Sept. 29 in the journal Cancer.

Although mammograms are not 100 percent accurate (a small percentage of cancers are missed), they are the best available tools for detecting the disease early.

The Cancer Society recommends women who are at high risk for breast cancer get an annual mammogram starting at age 30. In addition, they should also consider getting an MRI.

MRIs are more thorough than mammograms though they also detect more suspicious growths that end up being benign. MRIs also are much more expensive than mammograms. MRIs should only be used in addition to, not instead of, a mammogram.

This article includes information from the American Cancer Society, www.cancer.org, the National Cancer Institute, www.cancer.gov, and National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, www.nbcam.org.

Tamera Manzanares writes for the Aging Well program and can be reached at tmanzanares@nwcovna.org. Aging Well, a division of Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association, is a community-based program of healthy aging for adults 50 and older. For more information, visit www.agingwelltoday.com or call 970-871-7666.

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