This past year I was humbled and honored to receive the PA. Breast Cancer Coalition Pink Ribbon award, their highest award, and dedicate it to my sister-in-law fighting a rare form of inflammatory breast cancer.
Every woman who conquers breast cancer has an amazing story to share of their journey. The one common thread in every story is that early detection saves lives. October is “Breast Cancer Awareness Month,” and it’s hard to forget with pink ribbons, ties, and professional athletes wearing pink.
The statistics bear repeating. One in eight women in the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime. Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in women and is the second leading cause of cancer death among women. Each year, more than 246,660 women and 40,000 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer in the nation.
One statistic that is trending in a positive direction is the number of people – 2.8 million – who are breast cancer survivors. They are living full lives after having been diagnosed.
Pennsylvania is making strides in the continued effort to support those who have been diagnosed with breast cancer. The Breast Density Notification Act requires mammography providers to notify women categorized as having dense breast tissue and about their condition. Knowledge is power and this law has improved detection and prevention by educating patients about dense breast tissue and how it could conceal possible abnormalities during mammographic procedures.
Three-dimensional mammograms were approved by the Food and Drug Administration five years ago. In 2014, the American College of Radiology declared tomosynthesis, the medical term for three-dimensional mammography, to no longer be a mere investigational tool. Pennsylvania followed up last year by becoming the first state to require insurers to cover all screening mammograms, including the 3-D versions, at no out-of-pocket cost to consumers. To see a list of the mammography facilities that offer 3D mammograms in Pennsylvania, please visit the Pennsylvania Breast Cancer Coalition’s website at pabreastcancer.org
In July Pennsylvania became the 42nd state to provide patients equal access to anti-cancer treatments with the enactment of oral chemotherapy legislation (Act 73 of 2016). I was proud to author the enabling Oral Chemo Parity Legislation (House Bill 60).
Chemotherapy can have a violent effect on the human body as it does its job. Oral chemotherapy drugs are often as strong as those administered intravenously and may have fewer side effects. In some instances, oral medications are the only form of chemotherapy a patient can handle.
There is also the financial impact. Prior to Act 73, orally-administered chemotherapy was covered under a health plan’s pharmacy benefit, which required patients to pay a percentage of the total cost of the drug (generally between 25-30 percent). This created an enormous financial barrier for patients to access these drugs prescribed by their cancer physician for treatment. Act 73 prohibits insurance policies from placing oral anti-cancer medications on a specialty tier or charging a copay for the medication.
Hopefully, these measures will help in saving lives and make treatment of breast cancer more tolerable and successful. The end goal is to eradicate this disease. Continued support of innovative and high-impact research will someday hopefully lead to the cure.