Aging Well: Local programs help pay for mammograms, treatment costs

Resources

The Women's Wellness Connection provides eligible women, ages 40 to 64, with free annual clinical breast exams and Pap tests/pelvic exams. Mammograms also are provided if the patient is at high risk for or shows symptoms of cancer, or is 50 to 64. For more information, contact the VNA at 879-1632 in Steamboat Springs or 824-8233 in Craig. To find out if you qualify for the free tests, visit www.womenswellnes...>

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 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 including a Steamboat Ski Corp. season ski pass. The event is from 5 to 8 p.m. Oct. 30 at Three Peaks Grill. The cost is $30 per person. For more information, call 846-4554 or visit www.bustofsteambo...>

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.

In the big picture, that's not a lot of money to pay for the chance to catch any cancer early, so that a woman has a better chance of living a long and healthy life.

Yet, particularly in the current economic climate, $200 to $300 is more than many women can pay, even for a life-saving tool.

It's important these women know there are local programs available to help them pay for breast cancer and other important screenings and even costs related to breast cancer treatment.

Resources

The Women's Wellness Connection provides eligible, low-income women age 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 state program, which is funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and administered by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

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 ninth 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 that women may not be able to pay for if they can't work.

Requests for help have increased dramatically in the past 15 months, said Jan Fritz, one of eight women coordinating the Yampa Valley Breast Cancer Awareness Project.

"What we're finding is more women are underinsured and uninsured, and that's what we are trying to fill in," said Fritz, who also directs cancer services at Yampa Valley Medical Center.

In the past year, the project paid for 100 mammograms and ultrasounds - double the number from the previous year - and gave $20,000 to patients for treatment-related travel, medication, wigs and massages.

"We don't ask a lot of questions about what resources they have," she said. "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.

A woman's chance of developing the disease is determined by various clues or risk factors.

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 may reduce her chances of getting the disease or detecting it early, when it is most easily treatable.

The most common risk factors are being a woman, as less than 1 percent of cases occur in men; advancing in age; having a history of breast cancer, which can return; a history of non-cancer 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 may 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 may 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 may influence her breast cancer risk.

Lifestyle choices such as eating healthy, exercising regularly, not smoking and limiting alcohol intake may 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 for 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 normally look and can quickly notice any changes such as a lump or swelling, skin irritation or dimpling, nipple pain or retraction, redness or scaliness or discharge other than breast milk.

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.

Although mammograms are not 100 percent accurate and a small percentage of cancers are missed, mammograms 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 the age of 30. In addition, they also should consider getting an MRI, which stands for magnetic resonance imaging.

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. MRI 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, log on to www.agingwelltoday.com or call 871-7606.

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