MN Department of Health: Don’t give up your mammogram

Print

Two recent developments have women wondering about mammograms. Almost half of U.S. states have begun turning away some low-income women seeking free cancer screenings. Are free screenings still available in Minnesota after state budget cuts and mid-year unallotments to some Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) programs?  Should women under 50 postpone their annual mammograms as recommended by the U.S. Preventatives Services Task Force? 


It’s “yes, for now” to the first and a vehement “no” to the second, according to MDH.


 






Women seeking eligibility information about the free mammography program or those wanting to make an appointment for a free mammogram should call Sage at 1-888-6-HEALTH (or 888-643-2584)


Despite rather severe cuts to some health-related programs administered by MDH, the Sage Screening Program continues to cover the cost of free mammograms and cervical cancer screenings for uninsured women or those whose insurance plan doesn’t cover the full cost of screening. Sage is funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Susan G. Komen Foundation and other charitable organizations, as well as the state.


Sage follows the American Cancer Society guidelines that call for annual mammograms for women 40 and up, and younger women with symptoms or special health risks, including a family history of breast cancer. Sage also receives in-kind support from the American Cancer Society.


After the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force released its November recommendation that women need not start getting mammograms until age 50, MDH has received numerous calls from women asking if they still need to get a mammogram, according to Jonathan Slater, chief of the MDH’s Cancer Control Section, Slater said the agency has also heard from some of the 400 clinics that take part in the Sage program, asking if they should stop accepting patients for the program.


Slater called the task force’s recommendation, “a terrible disservice to women.” He said he knows the mammograms are an unpleasant test to undergo and that many women were overjoyed at the prospect of postponing their annual mammogram. And despite the fact that ACS, cancer experts and Health and Human Services commissioner Kathleen Sebelius fired back with their opposition to the recommendations, some damage was done. “People have a tendency to hear what they want to hear,” said Slater, and the task force recommendations planted some doubts about the value of annual breast cancer screening.


“The problem is that the task force didn’t take into account that mammograms of women 40 to 49, even younger, does save lives,” said Slater.


About 130 cases of breast cancer are detected among the 18,000 women screened through the Sage program annually, or about one in 88 women, said Slater. In stark terms, “If 88 women decide not to get screened, one of them will die,” said Slater.


David Arons, government relations director for the ACS in Minnesota, was among advocates that helped shield Sage from larger state budget cuts. He said MDH commissioner Sanne Magnan, MD, also deserved kudos. “She stood up for it [Sage] last year during the budget process.”


Sage is safe for now in Minnesota, but the current $1.2 billion deficit and projected $5.5 billion deficit during the next biennium “creates a lot of pressure to cut government funds even more,” said Arons.


Women seeking eligibility information about the free mammography program or those wanting to make an appointment for a free mammogram should call Sage at 1-888-6-HEALTH (or 888-643-2584)