A variety of important information about breast cancer and breast cancer screenings has gone missing from the Department of Health and Human Services women’s health website. The Sunlight Foundation tracks changes to government sites and they published a report on the now-vanished information.
The “Breast Cancer” website and related pages were removed from within the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office on Women’s Health (OWH) website. While content about mammogram breast cancer screening remains, informational pages and factsheets about the disease, including symptoms, treatment, risk factors, and public no- or low-cost cancer screening programs, have been entirely removed and are no longer found elsewhere on the OWH site. Among the material removed is information about provisions of the Affordable Care Act that require coverage of no-cost breast cancer screenings for certain women, as well as links to a free cancer screening program administered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The office did not proactively announce or explain the removals.
The information that was removed could be lifesaving for American women. A shocking 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetime. That amounts to 250,000 American men and women per year. As many in the Daily Kos community know, I am one of them. My breast cancer was diagnosed after my first-ever routine mammogram. Why would the government remove such vital information about a deadly disease that affects such a large portion of the population? Those cancer screenings could literally be a lifesaver because early detection is critical. Look at the American Cancer Society's statistics on survival rates:
- The 5-year relative survival rate for women with stage 0 or stage I breast cancer is close to 100%.
- For women with stage II breast cancer, the 5-year relative survival rate is about 93%.
- The 5-year relative survival rate for stage III breast cancers is about 72%. But often, women with these breast cancers can be treated successfully.
- Breast cancers that have spread to other parts of the body are more difficult to treat and tend to have a poorer outlook. Metastatic, or stage IV breast cancers, have a 5-year relative survival rate of about 22%. Still, there are often many treatment options available for women with this stage of breast cancer.
The reality is, cancer doesn’t care if you voted for Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. Removing information and resources should cause an outrage for all of us. As Amanda Michelle Gomez at ThinkProgress notes, these changes could potentially impact low-income and people of color the most.
The information removed is especially helpful to low-income individuals and people of color, such as important insurance information. The Affordable Care Act requires coverage of no-cost breast cancer screenings for certain individuals, but the website no longer makes mention of this. The “Government in action” section previously highlighted a government program that connected low-income, uninsured, and underinsured people to breast and cervical cancer screening and diagnostic services. The main breast cancer webpage also linked to a Spanish version. All of this information has been removed and is not found elsewhere on the OWH website, according to the Sunlight Foundation report.
There is still a page dedicated to mammograms, but a significant amount of content has been removed and is not elsewhere on the OWH site.
There is a reason mammogram coverage was a key element of the Essential Health Benefits portion of the Affordable Care Act. Before the ACA, health insurance companies could offer junk plans that didn’t cover basic screenings like mammograms. The ACA has been a benefit to women (and men) of all stripes across the country. Low-income women should have more resources to educate, screen and treat this deadly disease, not fewer resources. A recent study showed black women in particular are dying from breast cancer at much higher rates, largely caused by a lack of insurance:
"We found that differences in insurance explained one-third of the total excess risk of death in non-elderly black women compared to white women diagnosed with early stage breast cancer, while differences in tumor characteristics explained approximately one-fifth of the excess risk," lead study author Ahmedin Jemal, of the American Cancer Society (ACS), and colleagues wrote.
In 2014, breast cancer death rates were 41 percent higher among black women than among white women in the United States, the researchers said.
To learn more about this disparity, the investigators looked at information on more than 550,000 non-elderly women with early stage breast cancer.
Black women were more likely to be uninsured or have Medicaid coverage than white women (23 percent versus 8 percent), the findings showed. In addition, black women were more likely to have tumors that were larger, more advanced and hormone receptor-negative.
Here are the most common symptoms of breast cancer. Don’t wait until you have symptoms. If you are over 40, make sure you getting regular screenings.
The most common symptom of breast cancer is a new lump or mass. A painless, hard mass that has irregular edges is more likely to be cancer, but breast cancers can be tender, soft, or rounded. They can even be painful. For this reason, it is important to have any new breast mass, lump, or breast change checked by a health care professional experienced in diagnosing breast diseases.
Other possible symptoms of breast cancer include:
- Swelling of all or part of a breast (even if no distinct lump is felt)
- Skin irritation or dimpling (sometimes looking like an orange peel)
- Breast or nipple pain
- Nipple retraction (turning inward)
- Redness, scaliness, or thickening of the nipple or breast skin
- Nipple discharge (other than breast milk)
Sometimes a breast cancer can spread to lymph nodes under the arm or around the collar bone and cause a lump or swelling there, even before the original tumor in the breast is large enough to be felt. Swollen lymph nodes should also be checked by a health care provider.
Although any of these symptoms can be caused by things other than breast cancer, if you have them, they should be reported to a health care professional so that the cause can be found.