By Sharon Foster
Special to the Hood Herald
October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It is a great opportunity for TRICARE to promote the importance of early detection and prompt treatment. Early diagnosis is key to beating breast cancer.
According to the National Cancer Institute, each year in the United States more than 192,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer.
When detected early, the five-year survival rate of patients diagnosed with Stage I breast cancer is 95 to 98 percent. Regular screening by mammogram can lead to early detection of breast cancer and improve survival, according to the institute.
TRICARE officials encourage women to conduct breast self-exams and get annual mammograms.
"Mammograms are important because they play a key role in early breast cancer detection and help decrease breast cancer deaths," said Kathie McCracken, health affairs program director for Patient Advocacy, Medical Ethics and Women's Health Issues.
"They can be used to check for breast cancer in women who have no signs or symptoms of the disease or to check for breast cancer after a lump or other sign or symptom of the disease has been found."
To encourage women to get mammograms, TRICARE beneficiaries in specific age and risk categories have no co-payment for mammograms.
TRICARE beneficiaries are entitled to an annual mammogram beginning at age 40 and at a doctor's discretion for women younger than 40 who are at high risk of developing breast cancer. Beneficiaries identified as being at high risk for breast cancer, due to family history or other factors, are covered for annual mammograms beginning at age 35.
In March 2007, TRICARE added breast magnetic resonance imaging to the battery of cancer screenings it covers. TRICARE Prime beneficiaries age 30 or older and TRICARE Standard beneficiaries age 35 or older can have breast MRIs as an annual screening procedure if, according to American Cancer Society guidelines, they are considered at high risk of developing breast cancer.
After taking every preventive measure against breast cancer, a patient could still hear these four words from a doctor: "You have breast cancer."
This diagnosis can be very shocking and scary, but thanks to improvements in treatment, millions of women are cancer survivors.
Following a diagnosis, the doctor will likely give several choices for treatment. TRICARE covers mastectomy, radiation therapy and chemotherapy treatments.
It is important to discuss options in detail with a doctor.
Breast cancer can also develop in men. Each year, about 2,000 men in the U.S. learn they have the disease. TRICARE offers similar treatment options for men.
TRICARE beneficiaries can find information about breast cancer exams and screening at www.tricare.mil. For more information about breast cancer, visit the NCI at cancer.gov/cancertopics/types/breast.