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HartseinBy Elder Affairs Secretary Ann Hartstein

This year marks the 25th year of National Breast Cancer Awareness in the U.S. It coincides with the same year that members of the Baby Boomer generation turn 65.  How are these two milestones related?  According to the American Cancer Society, the risk of breast cancer increases significantly with age.  While rates of breast cancer are in fact declining overall among women fifty and older (which may be attributable to the decline in post-menopausal hormone therapy), women fifty-five and older still account for two out of three diagnoses of invasive breast cancers.   The good news is, the death rate of breast cancer has decreased in this age category thanks to early detection. 

Diet and exercise are believed to help reduce the risk of breast cancer. Unfortunately, as women grow older, they tend to reduce exercise time when they could, and should, increase it for its multiple health benefits.  Women often think that the incidence of breast cancer declines as you age and tend to be less faithful about mammograms and screenings.  The reality is, neglect is the greatest risk factor to a woman’s health and neglect can be fatal.

This year also marks an important new benefit for Medicare recipients.  Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), signed by President Obama in March 2010, free annual breast cancer screenings are available to Medicare recipients.  For women who are in this group, this is a benefit they cannot afford to miss. There is no cost to do this and therefore, there are no excuses!

I know that most women are terrified at the prospect of a cancer diagnosis and may avoid mammograms altogether.  They should be much more terrified of ignoring a treatable condition in its early stage.  Think of all the women you know who have had breast cancer and are living healthy, productive and fulfilling lives. 

Every woman, regardless of age, deserves every chance to be well.  Her family and friends depend on her to make the right choice.  And, children and grandchildren should know if they are at greater risk because a woman has breast cancer.

Consider the peace of mind that comes from having a mammogram and it reveals that a woman is breast cancer free.  In reality, most women who get the test DO NOT have breast cancer, but if they do and their disease is diagnosed early, they have every likelihood of a good outcome. In fact, with early detection, the survival rate is 98%.

To find out more about free breast cancer screenings available to seniors under the Affordable Care Act, contact a SHINE (Serving the Health Information Needs of Elders) counselor at your local Council on Aging or by calling1-800-AGE-INFO (1-800-243-4636) .  Similarly, if you are eligible for Medicare and have any questions about your health care coverage, your SHINE counselor can help with that, too.  The open enrollment period for changing or adjusting your health care coverage is going on now, it began October 15th through December 7th.  Call 1-800-AGE-INFO (1-800-243-4636) for your appointment.


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