Studies show that younger women often have more aggressive forms of breast cancer than older women and that their five-year survival rates are lower. For women diagnosed with early breast cancer, most recurrence happens within the first five years after treatment.
So why does the state-funded Breast and Cervical Cancer Treatment Program exclude screenings for women under 40, not allow treatment of the same tissue and limit treatment to 18 months?
Earlier this year, a policy committee of the Susan G. Komen Foundation in California introduced a bill to close those three gaps and provide life-saving screening and treatment for low-income Californians.
Assembly Bill 1795 passed the Assembly Health Committee with bipartisan support, but there is a long road ahead until it is signed into law. The Appropriations Committee hearing is set for this month, so now is the time for legislative leaders to support this bill.
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Authored by former Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, the bill would lower the eligibility age, offer treatment if a woman has a recurrence of cancer in the same tissue and would extend the length of treatment.
Not all women are alike and not all cancers are alike, and the length of a women’s treatment plan should be determined by her doctor, not her insurance plan. All women should have the same access to breast cancer screening and treatment services regardless of whether they are insured. While the state program has helped so many women, there are women who won’t be so lucky if we don’t expand the guidelines.
Detecting cancer early and beginning treatment immediately is the best way to keep women healthy and save lives. Under the current program, if a 28-year-old woman with no history of breast cancer finds a lump, the cost of a mammogram would not be covered. She would likely have to pay out of pocket, possibly delaying diagnosis and treatment.
But the complications don’t stop there. If that same woman was 42 years old and received treatment for breast cancer in her right breast, and a year later had a recurrence in that same breast, her treatment wouldn’t be covered either. And if a young woman is diagnosed with breast cancer, she should be allowed to stay on her treatment plan for longer than 18 months.
The current guidelines are arbitrary and don’t reflect necessary treatment timelines for some breast cancer cases. Some women need more time, some women need earlier intervention, and some women have limited resources. All women regardless of age, location of cancer diagnosis, or treatment course should have access to the same coverage.
AB 1795 will make that happen. We must make sure it passes.
Kelly Mac Millan is executive director of Susan G. Komen Foundation’s Sacramento Valley chapter. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.