A recent guest on a National Public Radio program opined that the problem with Breast Cancer Awareness Month is that we have an abundance of awareness and not enough progress in actually conquering the problem.
She has a point.
I’m sure most women long for the day when they will no longer have to have their breast tissue compressed between two hard plates and hold their breath so an X-ray machine can take a picture.
The same yearning for the eradication of cervical cancer probably applies to how women feel about pap smears, although I recall one experience in a doctor’s office in Birmingham when the physician was so relaxed he forgot to remove the speculum at the conclusion of the procedure and told me I could get up. Actually, I couldn’t get up, and I had to remind him of that little detail.
Taking preventative measures that are specific to women’s health can be quite routine, but the results of the 2011 Tennessee Women’s Health Report Card suggest otherwise.
The miserable overall score was an “F,” and there were all too many “Fs” in some very important categories.
These include the percentage of women who smoked during pregnancy, heart disease deaths and strokes per 100,000 women and the number of sexually transmitted infections cases per 100,000 women.
Dr. Kelly G. Williams specializes in obstetrics and gynecology at Murfreesboro Medical Clinic and is head of obstetrics at Middle Tennessee Medical Center. He also plays host on NewsChannel5+’s “Health and Today’s Woman.”
He admits some women have concerns about the effect of radiation from mammograms.
But this fear should not prevent women from having regular tests. (Williams’ clinic has a breast MRI machine, but he stipulates that it is advised only for certain patients.)
“The radiation from mammograms is minimal, especially now with digital technology,” Williams said. “And it enables to look more closely at the breast, especially if the tissue is dense. We can see into places we hadn’t been able to see before. I’ve known women who have died in their mid-30s because their tissue was so dense we just couldn’t see it well.”
African-American women are especially at risk in many categories, the report card finds. This presents special challenges.
“We might have to find new approaches, find out how to reach African Americans in a different way, take a different view than we have in the past because the present approach is not working,” Williams said.
To what extent is the sagging economy a factor?
When workers’ jobs go down the toilet, health insurance usually gets flushed, as well.
What little money the family has goes toward food, shelter and transportation. Health insurance then consists of prayers that the Almighty will keep folks well, and preventative care is a luxury many feel they can’t afford.
“Your health is more important than money,” Williams insisted. “TennCare will cover annual exams, and more and more private insurance covers wellness at 100 percent.”
The real issue, Williams said, is the innovation of a health care system that emphasizes keeping patients well instead of trying to help them after they become sick.
“We have such great technology that we can exercise and encourage preventative care in a way that doesn’t make patients feel as though they’re being put down or their rights are being violated,” Williams said. “Society needs to realize the importance of preventative care, and we need a value-added system that focuses on the patients, not the number of visits to the doctor’s office.”
Looking to the future, when MTMC’s Center for Breast Health moves to the new campus, it will have two full-field digital mammography units to go with services already offered, including breast biopsies, breast ultrasound and bone density screening.
Perhaps that news will help us improve our grade because, unfortunately, the letter “F” on a health report card stands for “fatality.” MP
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