Expanded insurance means better preventive care for women

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Women are empowered with better preventative health options than ever before in history. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act requires health plans to cover preventative care and eliminate related copayments and deductibles, providing women with direct access to the services they need.

Nearly nine of every 10 women in Pennsylvania now have health insurance through their employers, their spouse’s employers or the government. More are scheduled to receive coverage under the Affordable Care Act starting next year.

Among the most effective preventive care measures are early screenings for potentially serious illnesses such as cardiovascular disease, breast and ovarian cancer.

Cardiovascular disease is the biggest cause of women’s fatalities, claiming a quarter of women annually, according to the American Heart Association. Also, one of every eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer during their lives, according to the American Cancer Society, and about 22,000 women annually are diagnosed with ovarian cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In conjunction with the greater emphasis on women’s preventive care, Coordinated Health has initiated a communitywide cancer awareness campaign for women and their families.

Included is a personal and familial cancer risk assessment questionnaire that will assist women and their families in assessing the risk of breast/ovarian and other cancers. The questionnaire is available at all Coordinated Health facilities and also on its website.

Those who complete the questionnaire will be contacted within 10 days by a health care provider to inform them if they have an average or above-average risk for developing a cancer. If they are above-average risk, it will be recommended that they contact their family gynecologist or breast care provider. (They will be connected with a specialist from Coordinated Health if they do not have one.)

Coordinated Health developed the risk assessment questionnaire because many women are unaware of their risk for breast and ovarian cancer. About 85 percent of breast cancers occur in women who have no family history of breast cancer.

The risk factors for breast and ovarian cancer can lead to a variety of other cancers, including colon and uterine cancer. Since these are hereditary diseases, men can be carriers of the cancer-causing genes and be unaware of the risk.

Among women’s risk factors for breast/ovarian cancer are:

• Age 35 and older.

• Atypical and/or negative biopsy results.

• Early age of menstruation.

• Later age menopause.

• Older age of first live-birth or no full-term pregnancy.

• Extended use of hormone replacement.

• Increased breast density.

• First-degree relative with breast cancer.

Various risk models and individual gene testing tools, in combination with the cancer risk assessment questionnaire, are used to determine the cancer risk of women and their families. The expanding pool of health insurance coverage is enhancing the capability of providing better preventive care for women.

Dr. Emil J. DiIorio is a recognized orthopaedic surgeon and the founder, president and CEO of Coordinated Health, which has a strong presence in the Lehigh Valley and surrounding areas.

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