Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Georgia Says Mammograms Remain an Important Screening for Aging Women
June 02, 2014
ATLANTA – (June 2, 2014) – There has been a lot of confusion in the media lately regarding when and how often a woman should get a mammogram to check for breast cancer. But for older women, it’s simple: Women ages 50 to 74 should get a mammogram at least every two years[i], according to Mark Kishel, M.D., Director and Senior Medical Officer for BlueCross BlueShield of Georgia. Even women 74 and older may want to continue getting a mammogram every two years, depending on their health and doctor’s recommendation.
Breast cancer occurs when cells within the breast tissue divide and grow abnormally. Except for skin cancer, it is the most common cancer in American women. An estimated 2.8 million women are currently living with breast cancer in the United States. It can be deadly, accounting for about 40,000 deaths in 2013.[ii]
Mammography screening helps identify breast cancer early before there are symptoms, which lowers the risk of dying. The five-year survival rate for people who discovered breast cancer when it was still “localized” is nearly 99 percent.[iii]
Dr. Kishel says the risks of getting breast cancer increase as women age. One out of eight invasive breast cancers are found in women under age 45. In women 55 and older, that number jumps to two out of three breast cancers.[iv] Mammograms have been shown to lower the risk of dying from breast cancer by 35 percent in women over the age of 50.[v] Medicare covers the cost of a mammogram screening once every 12 months.[vi]
“Mammograms aren’t perfect, but they, along with breast self-examination, are the best tools we have in detecting breast cancer early when it’s most treatable,” Dr. Kishel said. “Preventive care mammograms are covered by Medicare at no extra cost and they generally take less than 20 minutes. Considering the prevalence of breast cancer in older women, it’s one of the best things they can do for their health.”
Medicare Advantage (MA) plans, such as those managed by BCBSGa, frequently send reminders to their members about the importance of getting a mammogram. Some even provide their members with a reward for completing the screening.
Dr. Kishel suggests women return to the same place, when possible, to get their mammograms so current and past screenings can be compared. Additionally, he said patients should let no more than 10 days pass before following up with their doctors and should never assume results are negative, just because they haven’t been contacted.
Although there are many reasons why a woman gets breast cancer, including some outside of her control, Dr. Kishel says certain lifestyle changes can help reduce risk. He recommends women take the following preventive actions.
Get exercise. Some MA plans include a free gym membership to encourage exercise.
Keep a healthy weight, especially later in life. Local social services organizations may be available for those who need help finding nutritious meals. To check for these resources, visit www.benefitscheckup.org.
Limit alcohol. Medicare offers counseling to those who need help to quit drinking.
Don’t smoke or quit if you do. A recent study by American Cancer Society found that current smokers had a 12 percent higher risk of breast cancer than women who never smoked. Medicare covers smoking cessation products for those who need them.
Talk to a doctor. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Dr. Kishel reiterated how critical it is to talk to a doctor about getting regular mammograms.
Anyone who is concerned about breast cancer, or who has symptoms, such as a lump, swelling, redness or irritation, should contact their doctor. For more information about breast cancer, visit www.cdc.gov/cancer/breast/.
This information is intended for educational purposes only and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider for advice about treatments that may affect your health.
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Georgia is a PPO plan, HMO plan and PDP plan with a Medicare contract. Enrollment in BCBSGa’s Medicare Part D depends on contract renewal. The benefit information provided is a brief summary, not a complete description of benefits. For more information, contact the plan. Limitations, copayments, and restrictions may apply. Benefits, formulary, pharmacy network, provider network, premium and/or co-payments/co-insurance may change on Jan. 1 of each year. You must continue to pay your Medicare Part B premium.
About Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Georgia, Inc.
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Georgia, Inc. and BlueCross BlueShield Healthcare Plan of Georgia, Inc. (collectively “BCBSGa”), the state’s largest and longest-standing health solutions company, serves nearly 3 million members, offering a variety of healthcare plans, including medical, dental, life and specialty programs. BlueCross and BlueShield of Georgia, Inc. and BlueCross BlueShield Healthcare Plan of Georgia, Inc. are independent licensees of the BlueCross and BlueShield Association®. The BlueCross and BlueShield names and symbols are registered marks of the BlueCross and BlueShield Association. Additional information about BlueCross and BlueShield of Georgia is available at www.bcbsga.com.
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