Did you know that one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime?
This astonishingly high statistic is one of the many things I learned about breast health at Planned Parenthood’s Breast Health Initiative briefing yesterday. Surrounded by some incredibly influential and inspirational women, including Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards and actress/activist Gabrielle Union, I was informed about the lives that screenings have already saved and the ways in which Planned Parenthood is expanding their services.
Also in attendance was the Medical Director of Planned Parenthood in Maryland, Raegan McDonald-Mosley, and Colleen Luther, a Planned Parenthood patient and breast cancer survivor.
Dr. McDonald-Mosley shared with us that the current screening generally entails breast imaging, which is “usually a mammography for women over 40,” and also clinical breast examinations by a chain provider, which is a “critical part of breast cancer screening and is really the only thing recommended for most women who are under 40 years old.” These clinical breast exams are recommended every one to three years for women between the ages of 20 and 40, and yearly after the age of 40. Mammograms are also recommended for women yearly after the age of 40.
Two factors, including fear and cost, are the biggest barriers preventing women from following up on their breast abnormalities. To combat these barriers, the initiative is focusing on providing education and funding to refer women to get diagnostic tests if an abnormality is found.
A breast cancer survivor, Ms. Luther shared with us how she almost ignored the lump that was found in her breast at age 27, but then realized Planned Parenthood has a sliding scale, so she decided to get screened. A teary-eyed Luther said, “There’s no doubt in my mind that Planned Parenthood saved my life, because I was so close to just walking away from the whole situation.”
Union spoke about her connection with breast cancer, explaining how her good friend Kristen Martinez died of Stage 4 metastatic breast cancer after she had procrastinated on getting screened because she was scared of what might be found. Goosebumps formed along my arms after Union shared the request that Martinez had asked of her a week before she died, saying, “You have to combat this, and you have to let people know that fear of the unknown can literally kill you, because it killed me.” Union now spreads the word about breast health in as many media outlets as possible, including her Twitter page, on the radio, and on TV.
Wrapping up the discussion, Richards said, “The gap between getting care and not getting care can be so thin, and I think whether it’s cost, or a lot of things besides ourselves to focus on, or whether it’s that basic fear that keeps women from getting [care], that’s the gap we’ve got to close.”
To do your part, visit Planned Parenthood’s website to learn more, and make sure to get yourself screened, whether you are 20 or 50. Your life could be saved, and Planned Parenthood’s new Breast Health Initiative is here to help.