Breast cancer screening saves lives, lowers medical costs

    Prevention and early detection are the keys to fighting breast cancer. Yet many women are putting off breast cancer screenings due to economic hardships and changing health care plans, according to a community profile commissioned by Susan G. Komen for the Cure’s Milwaukee affiliate.

    "Prevention in these economic times kind of falls by the wayside," said Jessica Bergstrom, associate researcher for the Center of Urban Population Health, a partnership of the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, Aurora Health Care and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

    This should be a significant concern for businesses. 

    The price can be high as employees lose substantial time at work as they go through treatment if breast cancer is not caught in its early stages. Any business is adversely affected by employee absences, but this is also a matter of saving lives.

    It is also more cost-effective to catch breast cancer early, when lower levels of treatment are needed. That’s why screening is so important.

    Underwritten by Aurora Health Care, the community profile covered the Milwaukee Komen affiliate’s eight-county area of southeastern Wisconsin, showed that:

    Under-insured women – those with high deductibles, high co-pays and age restrictions – often skip screening because of the cost or because they cannot afford time off work.

    There is a need for more free mammograms and financial support for screening.

    Uninsured and under-insured women require preventative care that is often not available to them because of financial and work-related factors.

    More focus on preventative care is needed.

    The stakes are high for both women and businesses in southeastern Wisconsin, as more than 1,300 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer by the end of 2009. Of those, more than 260 will die. Milwaukee, Waukesha and Racine Counties have both the highest incidence and highest mortality rates.

    It is important for screening to be readily available to all women regardless of their insurance status. The barriers to early detection simply must fall, and businesses can play a role by encouraging employees to get screened and requiring health insurers to provide screening coverage and preventative care.

    Based on the findings of the community profile, Komen for the Cure Milwaukee Affiliate recommends:

    • Regular testing – screening tests and clinical breast exams – lowers the risk of dying from breast cancer.
    • Early diagnosis. As screening increases, it is crucial that women have access to diagnostic tests following an abnormal breast cancer screening to ensure early diagnosis.
    • Continuum of care throughout treatment. Treatment plans vary for each woman, depending on a number of factors. It is important that women receive proper support throughout her treatment to address all of her needs.

    Screening and treatment of breast cancer can save lives. But it can also save businesses lost employee productivity and possibly the cost of increasing health insurance premiums, especially for smaller businesses.
    Screening and testing for breast cancer needs to be readily available to all women. It’s good for employees. And it’s good for business.

    Sally Sheperdson is executive director of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, Milwaukee Affiliate.

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