Happy birthday — now, go get that mammogram


POSTED: Thursday, October 23, 2008

This year, Kaiser Permanente celebrates its 50th anniversary in Hawaii. Not long ago, I marked an anniversary of my own — my 40th birthday. In an age-conscious society like ours, turning 40 is a major milestone. In terms of health care, it is a time when staying healthy begins to take more effort. I marked my Big 4-0 with an event that is as important to my continued good health as routine exercise, balanced nutrition and quality time with family and friends. I had my first mammogram.

I was taken aback when I received the call from Kaiser's breast care team notifying me that it was time for my mammogram, a breast cancer screening test. My first response was that they had made a mistake in calling me. My family has no history of breast cancer, and I couldn't possibly be old enough to start worrying about a life-threatening disease like cancer. The frightening truth is that, according to the American Cancer Society, one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer, and the most effective screening takes place for women between the ages of 40-65 years.

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Last year, Kaiser alone conducted more than 35,400 screenings and detected 247 cases of breast cancer. So far this year, we have done 22,000 screenings and found another 170 women with breast cancer.

Hawaii's health care providers and insurers should be recognized for their efforts to reach out to women. However, by working together, there's more we can do to promote the fact that early detection is the best form of treatment. National Cancer Institute studies show that more than 90 percent of women found to have early stage breast cancer will be cured. Detecting and treating disease in early stages greatly improves the odds of survival. Early detection also eliminates the need for more costly and invasive treatments that make recovery more difficult.

  I propose that both public and private industry leaders commit to enhancing insurance coverage for preventive care when supported by scientific evidence. In addition, providers should increase screening services to the underserved areas across our state. And our physician community must be supported in patient education activities that promote annual screenings.

At Kaiser, we take pride in the numerous efforts we use to reach our women. Our staff will call to schedule their screening appointment, first when they turn 40 and then on an annual basis up to the age of 65.

You can learn more about breast cancer and mammography services during National Breast Cancer Awareness Month by accessing the public health encyclopedia located on Kaiser Permanente's Web site kp.org.

Happy birthday to Hawaii's women turning 40. May we live long and thrive.


Janet Liang is president of Kaiser Permanente, Hawaii region.