Weekly Columns

Breast cancer is the most common cancer and the second leading cause of death among women in the U.S. The American Cancer Society estimates that, in 2022, there will be over 300,000 new cases diagnosed and more than 43,000 deaths. 

The average American woman has around a one in eight chance of developing this disease at some point in her life. It can and does happen to our family, friends and acquaintances every day. Fortunately, our constantly evolving approaches to prevention, detection and treatment are resulting in better odds and more survivals. 

There has been a concerted effort to study and fight breast cancer by researchers and health care providers throughout our country. In Arkansas, we are committed to providing the services and support necessary to give those diagnosed greater hope. 

The BreastCare program created by the state government provides no-cost screening and follow-up services to eligible women who are uninsured or underinsured. It also supplies educational information to Natural State communities about the importance of regular mammography exams and the risks associated with breast cancer. Since its inception 25 years ago, BreastCare has enrolled over 128,000 women.

The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences is also leading the way. Its breast cancer program at the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute just recently earned reaccreditation from the National Accreditation Program for Breast Centers (NAPBC) in addition to two of its providers being named to the organization’s leadership.

There is a clear and firm commitment to battling this particular health challenge throughout our state. One of the keys to doing so is through early detection.

I recently met with a group of Arkansans who traveled to Washington, D.C. as part of the American Cancer Society Action Network’s 2022 Leadership Summit and Lobby Day. These advocates from several different communities were dedicated to helping Congress understand the importance of continuing our support for research and other priorities, including the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program, which for 30 years has decreased disparities in breast and cervical cancer deaths by providing over 15.6 million screening exams. 

And that’s not the only initiative at the federal level demonstrating the shared recognition that more must be done to save lives and protect Americans’ health.

Two bills I led to specifically address this issue within the veterans community became law this year and will help give our former servicemembers access to new prevention measures and world-class treatments. 

The Dr. Kate Hendricks Thomas Supporting Expanded Review for Veterans in Combat Environments (SERVICE) Act and the Making Advances in Mammography and Medical Options (MAMMO) for Veterans Act will offer women veterans more peace of mind when it comes to their breast health. Since these bills are now law, if a veteran is at higher risk because of where she served, she will have earlier opportunities for screening. For those diagnosed with breast cancer, the Department of Veterans Affairs will be obtaining world-class imaging technology and offer participation in more clinical trials to enhance treatment and outcomes.

This Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we must continue to support every American suffering from this disease while also pushing to improve the likelihood that they will lead long, healthy lives. In Arkansas and throughout our country, we are making good progress with more to come.