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October is National Breast
Cancer Prevention Month— an annual, international observance designed to
increase breast cancer awareness and raise funds for research into its cause,
cure, prevention, diagnosis, and treatment. The prevention month was founded in
1985 by the American Cancer Society to promote mammography as the most effective
tool in the fight against breast cancer.
In 2009, 211,731 women and
2,001 men in the United States were diagnosed with breast cancer. In
Alaska, female breast cancer is second (to prostate cancer) in incidence rate
(134.3 cases/100,000 women), and first in total number of cases (2,869)
reported annually. Breast cancer ranks third in Alaska for cancer
deaths with a rate of 23.3 deaths/100,000 women, which is lower than the U.S.
rate of 26.6/100,000.
Strategies for the
prevention of breast cancer include screening, knowing family history,
maintaining a healthy weight, and getting regular physical activity.
Screenings for breast cancer
include mammography and clinical examinations. Mammograms are currently the
best way to find breast cancer before there are symptoms of the disease. Therefore, women 50 to 74 years old are encouraged to have a screening
mammogram once every two years. In 2012, 26% of Alaska women did
not have a mammogram in the past two years, compared to 22% nationwide.
Efforts are currently
underway by a range of governmental, healthcare, and community organizations to
increase screening rates and reduce both incidence and mortality rates of
breast cancer. The State of Alaska has three primary programs that address
breast cancer, including the Comprehensive Cancer Control Program, the Alaska Cancer Registry, and the Breast & Cervical Health Check Program
(BCHC). The Alaska
Comprehensive Cancer Partnership is a coalition of diverse stakeholders working
toward cancer prevention, control, and treatment. Others partnering with the
State of Alaska on breast cancer prevention include Hope Community
Neighborhood Health Center,
and the Governor’s Council on Disabilities &
disparities exist in breast cancer screening rates. Women with fewer financial
resources are less likely to be screened than their peers. To combat disparities, BCHC
provides breast cancer screening services to women who meet certain income
guidelines, who do not have insurance, who cannot meet their deductible, or
whose insurance does not pay for BCHC services. Since 1995, BCHC has provided more
than 107,000 health screening services to over 48,000 Alaska women. More than
379 cases of breast cancer have been diagnosed.
Women with disabilities also
are less likely than those without disabilities to be screened. In addition,
they have higher rates of death related to breast cancer even when diagnosed at
the same stage as women without a disability.
In response to these facts, a new pilot program called “Healthy Women Alaska
(HWA)” was recently launched through a partnership between the University of
Alaska Anchorage (UAA) and the State of Alaska’s Section of Women’s, Children’s, and Family
Based on the national model,
“Women Be Healthy”, the program aims to promote cancer screening awareness,
knowledge, and action among direct service professionals who work with disabled
populations. The professionals trained in the program are encouraged to
collaborate to increase awareness and participation in health promotion and prevention
activities among the women they serve.
- U.S. Cancer Statistics Working Group. United States Cancer
Statistics: 1999–2009 Incidence and Mortality Web-based Report. Atlanta
(GA): Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention, and National Cancer Institute; 2013. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/uscs.
- Cancer Incidence and Mortality in Alaska, 1996-2004. State of Alaska
Cancer Registry. May 2008.
- Centers for Disease Control & Prevention– Breast Cancer
- State of Alaska Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System.
- Lantz PM, Weigers ME, House JS. Education and income differentials
in breast and cervical cancer screening. Policy implications for rural
women. Med Care. 1997 Mar; 35(3):219–236.
- State of Alaska Department of Health & Social Services, Division
of Public Health—Section of Women’s, Children’s, and Family Health Breast
& Cervical Health Check website.
- Parish, Susan L., and Alison Whisnant Saville.
"Women with cognitive limitations living in the community: Evidence of
disability-based disparities in health care." Journal
Information 44.4 (2006).