Access to Free Mammograms
- Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who was diagnosed with and treated for breast cancer this year, introduced a bill to promote access to cancer screenings. The Protecting Access to Lifesaving Screenings (PALS) Act has also been reintroduced and if passed would guarantee free mammograms at least once a year to all women 40 and over.
- This bill comes about as the current law allowing women age 40-49 breast screening coverage and free mammograms expires on January 1, 2023.
- Mammograms are key to early detection of breast cancer. “If you haven’t gone through menopause yet, I think it’s very important that you have a mammogram every year. We know that cancers grow more rapidly in our younger patients, and having that annual mammogram can be lifesaving,” Dr. Connie Lehman tells SurvivorNet.
This week, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) said she would introduce the Preventive Care Awareness Act which would increase access and awareness for early cancer screenings. It would also establish a task force to address preventive care access during COVID-19 and future public health emergencies.Read More
If passed, the bill would guarantee free mammograms at least once a year to all women 40 and over.
This bill comes about as the current law allowing women age 40-49 breast screening coverage and free mammograms expires on January 1, 2023.
The U.S. Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF) rates mammograms a C for women in the 40 – 49 age range, meaning that they do not recommend annual screenings. That is at odds with the recommendations of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, the American College of Radiology/Society for Breast Imaging, and many experts in the field of oncology.
"The notion that breast cancer is a risk only for older people puts young women at risk of not getting a screening that could save their lives. The USPSTF guidelines would exacerbate this problem by discouraging women from getting potentially lifesaving mammograms and putting them at risk of losing insurance coverage for screenings," said Rep. Wasserman Schultz.
"As a breast cancer survivor who was diagnosed at 41, I know firsthand the importance of ensuring young women have access to the tools and information they need regarding their breast health. That is why I am proud to reintroduce the PALS Act with Congressman Upton, which extends the moratorium on these ill-advised guidelines and is supported by leading clinical and advocacy organizations."
Dr. Stamatia Destounis, chief of the American College of Radiology Breast Imaging Commission, also voiced her support for the bill and spoke about how these screenings were more important than ever at this time.
"On the heels of a pandemic that kept many women from being screened for breast cancer, women now need greater access to screening, not less. Extending the PALS Act protections will avoid a needless decline in screening and thousands of unnecessary deaths each year as a result of implementation of the ill-advised 2016 United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommendations," said Dr. Destounis.
"Women in underserved areas could be particularly hard hit if the PALS Act protections are not renewed. We urge all members of Congress to support the PALS Act."
Getting Screened for Breast Cancer With Mammograms
Breast cancer is typically detected via a mammogram. During the mammogram screening, the doctor is looking for lumps in the breast tissue or early signs of breast cancer. The American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends women begin screening for breast cancer at 45, and if this new bill is passed any woman over 40 could get at least one free mammogram a year.
Dr. Connie Lehman, the chief of Breast Imaging Division at Massachusetts General Hospital, said in a previous interview, “If you haven’t gone through menopause yet, I think it’s very important that you have a mammogram every year. We know that cancers grow more rapidly in our younger patients, and having that annual mammogram can be lifesaving.”
“After menopause, it may be perfectly acceptable to reduce that frequency to every two years,” says Dr. Lehman. “But what I’m most concerned about is the women who haven’t been in for a mammogram for two, three, or four years, those women that have never had a mammogram. We all agree regular screening mammography saves lives. I want to be completely clear. If you are between 50 and 74 and you have not had a mammogram in the last two years, you are overdue. Please get a mammogram.”