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Breast Cancer Programs Getting Better, Health Chief Says

By Douglas J. Gillert
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 7, 1998 – A breast cancer initiative launched in the early 1990s is delivering improved health care and education to the 1.3 million female beneficiaries of military health care, according to the senior defense medical officer.

Speaking at the 1998 DoD breast cancer conference Sept. 17 in San Diego, Dr. Sue Bailey said the goal of the initiative is to reduce the incidence of breast cancer, increase survival rates, improve quality of life for those diagnosed with the disease, and optimize access to early screening, diagnosis, treatment and follow-on care.

The initiative "provides access to routine screening, specialty care, reconstructive care and follow-up care, including psycho- social support that specifically accounts for the unique aspects of the military life style," said Bailey, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs.

"As we seek to conquer this devastating disease that is the No. 2 killer of women over the age of 40, you are on the department's front lines of battles," she told the audience of mostly health care providers. "We look to you to continue the efforts you have begun."

Among the specific activities Bailey cited were developing a departmentwide mammography tracking system, using nonmedical technologies to enhance diagnosis and treatment, and combining research and innovative clinical approaches to enhance early diagnosis and treatment. She praised a mobile breast cancer center the Army Medical Research and Material Command is developing and agreements with the National Cancer Institute that give thousands of DoD cancer patients access to care outside the military health care system.

Although the initiative has advanced breast cancer care in DoD, Bailey said it still doesn't provide the same level of care everywhere. "We are striving to find the means to have our military medical facilities offer the same programs whether at Osan [Air Base], Korea; Fort Hood, Texas; or Naples, Italy," she said. "There is more work to be done to achieve that goal."

She also noted differences in the care provided at military medical facilities and through the TRICARE network. For example, the DoD policy calls for active duty women to receive yearly mammograms after they turn 40. TRICARE contractors, however, provide a screening mammogram at age 40 and follow-up exams every other year until age 50, then annually thereafter. Bailey said DoD is trying to amend contracts to conform to health care policy.

"I am committed to pursuing initiatives that will ensure the health of military women, who have become such an essential part of America's military strength," Bailey said. "Advances in medicine continue to offer hope that the day we will overcome this killer is rapidly approaching."

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