Health breast cancer, Louis-Dreyfus, cancer, universal health care, health care
1 in 8 women get breast cancer, but it’s shocking how little most know about the disease

The day after winning her record-shattering sixth consecutive Emmy award earlier this month, Veep star Julia Louis-Dreyfus was dealt a blow: She learned she had breast cancer. She went public with the news on Thursday in a sobering social media post that simultaneously called for support of a universal health care system.

“1 in 8 women get breast cancer. Today I am the one,” Louis-Dreyfus wrote in her post. “The good news is that I have the most glorious group of supportive and caring family and friends, and fantastic insurance through the union. The bad news is that not all women are so lucky, so let’s all fight all cancers and make universal health care a reality.”

Earlier this month, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., announced his proposal for a single-payer health care system, or one in which the government would be the only one paying for health expenses (as opposed to the current system, in which insurance companies, state governments, and the federal government all manage these costs for different groups of people).

The Sanders proposal seeks to slowly phase all Americans into this kind of system over a four-year timespan; doing this would require dropping the Medicare eligibility age in stages until all are covered. In this kind of system, all American citizens would, by default, have insurance coverage.

According to a 2016 Planned Parenthood survey of 1,104 adult U.S. women, 82 percent say they understand when women should start being checked for breast cancer and 84 percent say they know how often those checks should continue; still, only 4 percent actually knew at what age — 21 — screenings should begin. Thirty percent wrongly thought that breast cancer screenings for women should not begin until age 40, along with her first mammogram.

Sixteen percent of women polled said they had never been checked for breast cancer, with another 3 percent saying they were unsure if they ever had. In addition, 23 percent of women said they did not know when they should next get checked for breast cancer, while 27 percent of black women, 28 percent of Hispanic women, and 12 percent of white women said they don’t think they are at risk for developing breast cancer.

“Some breast cancer risks can’t be be controlled, like your age or having a family history of ovarian or breast cancer. But there are things you can do to reduce your risk, like maintaining a helath weight and exercising regularly, limiting the amount of alcohol you drink, avoiding chemicals linked to cancer, and not smoking,” Dr. Raegan McDonald-Mosley, Chief Medical Officer of Planned Parenthood Federation tells Yahoo Lifestyle

According to a Practice Bulletin published this July by the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in women in the U.S. and the second leading cause of cancer death in American women; breast cancer accounts for 30 percent of all new cases of cancer diagnoses in women.

Still, ACOG notes, breast cancer mortality rates have decreased substantially during the past 50 years; the present five-year survival rate is 90 percent, compared with 75 percent in the past.

While the group no longer recommends breast self-examinations in average-risk women, it does recommend that a clinical breast exam be offered to these women by their health care provides every one to three years.

“Get to know what your breasts feel like and let your doctor or nurse know if you find a lump or notice any other changes. The most common breast cancer symptom is a lump in your breast or in your armpit. Other things besides cancer can cause lumps, so finding one doesn’t definitely mean you have cancer — but it’s important to get checked out if you do find a lump. Other possible symptoms are swelling or pain in your breast or nipple, dimples in the skin of your breast, or skin that’s red, flaky, or thicker than normal on your breast or nipple. It’s also possible for breast cancer not to cause any noticeable symptoms until the disease has developed more,” McDonald-Mosley notes.

She continues: “Breast cancer screenings can’t prevent cancer, but they can help to find cancer earlier, when it is easier to treat. Women should ask their provider about their recommended screening schedule, based on their age, family history, and other risk factors. Under the Affordable Care Act, preventive cancer screenings are covered by insurance without a copay. And whether you have insurance or not, you can always come to Planned Parenthood.”

Louis-Dreyfus fans reacted to her news with tweets of sadness and support, with many joining the star in spreading helpful messages to other women, as well as standing up for universal health care coverage.

“Taking the best possible care of yourself can sometimes feel hard. We understand that people may put off cancer screenings due to time, cost, or anxiety, or because they don’t know when they’re due for a screening. It might feel easier for you or a loved one to delay screenings — especially if you feel healthy — but preventive care is just too important to avoid,” emphasizes McDonald-Mosley.

She concludes, “Friends and family can help by talking about the importance of early detection. Talk to the women in your life — your mother, sisters, aunts, cousins, and friends — about getting screened for breast cancer. Ask if they know their recommended breast cancer screenings and if they’re up to date. When was the last time they had a check-up? If they aren’t going in for screenings, ask why. See if you can help them overcome whatever is preventing them from getting care.”

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