Breast Cancer Awareness Month Promotes Screening

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"Mammograms are important because they play a key role in early breast cancer detection and help decrease breast cancer deaths," said Kathie McCracken, director for women's health patient advocacy and medical ethics in the Military Health System.

"They can be used to check for breast cancer in women who have no signs or symptoms of the disease," she said, "or to check for breast cancer after a lump or other sign or symptom of the disease has been found."

The National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Md., reports that more than 192,000 U.S. women are diagnosed with breast cancer every year.

Early diagnosis, officials agree, is the key to ensuring the best-possible outcome. The five-year survival rate of patients diagnosed with Stage I breast cancer is 95 to 98 percent, the National Cancer Institute's research reveals.

The military's TRICARE Management Activity is working to get the word out, too, reminding its beneficiaries that mammograms save lives.

TRICARE covers yearly screening mammograms for women ages 40 and older, at no cost to them. For those considered at high risk, TRICARE covers mammograms beginning at age 35, officials said.

TRICARE officials reported the stories Mara Street and Heather Cooke, military spouses who initially balked when their TRICARE doctors suggested mammograms.

An Air Force spouse and mother of six, Street said she didn't think she needed a mammogram because she was healthy at age 40 and had no family history of breast cancer.

But when the clinic staff called to press her to make an appointment, Street listened. Street had her first mammogram and was diagnosed with breast cancer.

"If it hadn't been for [the clinic] making two phone calls, we may have waited until she was 50 years of age, and our opportunities and options would have been grossly limited," said Street's husband, Timothy.

Heather Cooke, age 52, married and mother of four, also learned after a routine mammogram that she had early-stage breast cancer. After undergoing a series of procedures, she is now cancer-free.

"My doctors have told me that because I was able to detect [the cancer] early and aggressively attack it, that my chances of not having another cancerous growth are 99 percent," she said.

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