MPCA/UHC Pen Joint Op-Ed: Breast Cancer Screenings Matter

October has been designated as Breast Cancer Awareness Month. And while this is an important opportunity to remind people of the need to safeguard their health, the reality is that breast cancer outcomes will only improve by providing additional education and increased access to high-quality preventive health care including cancer screenings year-round.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, 32% of individuals delayed preventive visits.[1] While many individuals are getting back to the doctor, some Michiganders are still delayed on their regular appointments.

Importance of Routine Care

Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers impacting American women accounting for 30% of cancer diagnoses each year. In 2022, 8,900 new breast cancer cases will have been diagnosed in Michigan.[2]

Routine care remains foundational for better health. By meeting with a doctor regularly, there’s a greater chance that they will be able to help with early diagnosis of conditions, like breast cancer, resulting in better outcomes and less intensive treatment.

Why Screenings Matter

Roughly half of all women who get screening mammograms will have a false positive resultin a 10-year period. That doesn’t mean you should skip the test. Most breast cancer is detected by mammogram before symptoms appear, which is why mammography is so important.

The test may detect breast irregularities that can be further examined with techniques, such as a biopsy, to help determine a cancer diagnosis. Your breast density may also inform the types of screening best for you. Talk with your doctor to determine what kind of screening plan works best for you given your health, age, and family history of breast cancer.

Advancements In Healthcare

As healthcare evolves, more advancements have been made to help detect breast cancer early, including genetic testing. It’s important to know that both women and men can be diagnosed with breast cancer.

In 2020, the United Health Foundation committed $2.5 million to the Michigan Primary Care Association (MPCA) to support increased breast cancer screening and genetic testing for high-risk women, men, and their families. The partnership established a breast cancer genetic testing and screening pilot program at seven Michigan community health centers to increase patient education and testing rates, and enhance transitions of care through improved technology, community partnerships and data analysis

Partners in Care

Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) serve 1 in 12 people in the United States providing affordable and accessible care. Community health centers are meeting an increased demand for direct care and treatment, while expanding the types of services available to patients, including medical, dental, behavioral health, and vision services. As part of this partnership with the United Health Foundation, seven FQHCs including Cherry Health, Center for Family Health, Catherine’s Health Center, Community Health and Social Services Center, East Jordan Family Health Center, Honor Community Health, and Western Wayne Family Health Centers, have been able to expand their services. As a result, nearly 13,000 patients ages 40-75 received mammogram screenings and 439 patients were referred to a genetic counselor for genetic testing recommendations.

As we all strive to get back to normal following the many significant impacts and disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic, we encourage you to make your preventive health a priority. If you haven’t had a mammogram in the past year, schedule yours today.

Authors: Dr. Patricia De Loof, Chief Medical Officer, UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Michigan; Jackie Demull, Women’s Cancer Screening Program Coordinator, Cherry Health Center for Family Health