October Is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month

by Lynne Clement, Communications Specialist, Division of Public Health Services

National Breast Cancer Awareness Month is an annual campaign to increase awareness about the disease including the importance of early detection and the growing number of women who are living with and after treatment.

The Data

Consistent with the United States, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in New Hampshire and the second leading cause of death from cancer among women. Based on the most recent five years of data, breast cancer incidence in NH is the highest in the nation, with approximately 1,258 women being diagnosed per year in our state. Despite having the highest incidence in the nation, our state is among the lowest when it comes to breast cancer mortality; a reflection of our state’s early detection and high quality clinical treatment of breast cancer. At present in NH we have more than 17,000 women who are surviving with breast cancer and after breast cancer.

New Hampshire has one of the highest breast cancer screening rates in the United States. In 2018, 83% of women in New Hampshire over the age of 50 reported having a mammogram within the past two years, and based on the most recent 5 years of data, approximately 76% of diagnosed breast cancers were found at an early stage. While the overall screening rate is high, disparities persist, with lower rates among women with a lower household income and with lower educational attainment. The NH Healthy Lives Breast and Cervical Cancer Program aims to close these gaps by continuing to reach out to and offer services to these women throughout our state.

Screening During COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in lower breast cancer screening rates due to non-essential procedures being cancelled and a hesitation among women to enter healthcare facilities. However, it is still as important as ever to be screened. Healthcare facilities have made changes to help reduce the risk of COVID-19, including:

  • Pre-screening for COVID-related symptoms before cancer screening appointments.
  • Scheduling appointments to allow for physical distancing between patients, and decreased crowding in waiting room areas.
  • Requiring face coverings for all patients and staff, frequent handwashing and use of hand sanitizer by staff, patients, and visitors.
  • More frequent cleaning and disinfecting of equipment and surfaces.

Reducing Risk

In addition to getting screened so that cancer can be detected and treated early, there are many things that women can do to reduce risk of ever developing cancer. While family history is a factor that cannot be modified, there is something that women can do about it. Women with a family history of breast cancer should talk with their provider to inform decisions about their screening and care.

In addition to family history, other breast cancer risk factors include obesity, alcohol consumption, and lack of physical activity. It is estimated that by addressing these three modifiable factors, nearly 300 cases of breast cancer in NH could be prevented each year and a number of other health issues could be avoided. Women can work to address these risk factors on their own, with the support of health care systems and though using community-based programs.

Addressing Disparities

The NH Healthy Lives Breast and Cervical Cancer Program targets outreach efforts to women who have historically been less likely to get screened and provides them with access to care, including free breast and cervical cancer screenings. Beginning in 2020 this program has been expanded to offer free services and programs to help women reduce their risk of developing breast cancer by eating healthy and being physically active.

To be eligible for the program, women must:

  • live in New Hampshire,
  • be between ages 21 and 64,
  • be uninsured or have insurance with a deductible, and
  • meet income guidelines

For additional information on this free program and to determine if you or someone you know is be eligible, please call 603-271-4931 or visit www.dhhs.nh.gov/dphs/cdpc/bccp/index.htm.

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