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Conference Addresses Breast Health Issues

By Douglas J. Gillert
American Forces Press Service

ARLINGTON, Va., Aug. 1, 1997 – Military health care professionals met here July 28-29 to discuss and learn how to better detect, diagnose and treat breast cancer.

"Breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in U.S. women," Dr. Ed. Martin told the assembly. "It also is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in women."

The acting assistant secretary of defense for health affairs challenged the 250 participants in the 1997 DoD Breast Cancer Conference to "identify acceptable, effective education programs and bring improved strategies and programs back to your home base for easily accessible, high quality breast cancer care."

Congress appropriated $25 million in each of the fiscal 1996 and 1997 defense budgets to increase research, training and education. The funds will be allocated in three phases, with the first 40 percent going to military medical treatment facilities to increase their basic capabilities, Martin said. In the second phase, DoD health affairs will administer 40 percent for education programs that target health care providers and military health care beneficiaries. Lead agents that govern each of the 12 TRICARE regions nationwide will receive the remaining 20 percent of the funds in Phase 3.

Martin said he hopes the funding will improve an already excellent system of breast health care, providing faster patient access to care, earlier diagnosis and treatment and correspondingly higher rates of survival. He said patient education is key to across-the-board improvements.

"Education is our biggest challenge," added Dr. (Lt. Gen.) Ronald Blanck, Army surgeon general. He said the military health care community must form partnerships with patients to improve early detection, diagnosis and treatment.

Navy Surgeon General Dr. (Vice Adm.) Harold Koenig cited improvements his service has made and called for greater sharing of information and resources among the services. "The more we share information, the better off all of us will be," Koenig said.

Among the enhanced services Koenig noted are a mobile mammography unit, nurse case manager training programs and a new regional breast health center at Naval Hospital San Diego. He said the initiatives are part of the Navy's ongoing effort to build healthier communities.

Creating a healthier beneficiary population requires a shift from intervention to prevention, said Dr. (Lt. Gen.) Charles H. Roadman II, Air Force surgeon general. "We must put prevention into training and practice," he said.

Everything the DoD health care system does -- medical readiness, deploying TRICARE, rightsizing itself, and building healthy communities -- must support the overarching requirement of customer satisfaction, Roadman added.

"Customer satisfaction," he added, "is access, access, access."

Martin said efforts in breast health care are examples of how the entire DoD health system should be run. "There is very high-level interest in our effort," he told the conferees. He said the DoD breast care program will help transform the military health services system into "the benchmark health care system in the world."

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