When the new year began, a barrier fell for Missouri women in the fight against breast cancer. Effective Jan. 1, 2019, insurance providers are required to cover the cost of 3D screening mammograms, also known as breast tomosynthesis. The new law also lowers, from 50 to 40, the age at which mammograms must be covered.
In addition, Mercy Springfield has made 3D mammograms the standard for everyone who comes in for a screening. It has also installed 3D mammography on its Wellness on Tour bus, which takes mammograms to more than 15 rural Ozarks communities. Visit www.bit.ly/2019WOT for the most recent schedule of stops.
“This is huge, because now there’s no barrier for women to have access to this technology,” said Dr. Jack Gregston, radiologist at Mercy’s Chub O’Reilly Cancer Center. “Whether they have insurance, are on Medicare or get a free mammogram through our partnership with the Breast Cancer Foundation of the Ozarks, they will know we’re getting the best possible look at what’s going on inside.”
A 3D mammogram provides images from different angles enabling a computer to digitally recreate an image of the breast layer-by-layer. This view makes it easier to see the tissue and evaluate possible abnormalities. It’s proven especially beneficial for women with dense breast tissue. In a 2D mammogram, dense breast tissue can overlap and appear similar to cancer – and that can mean more testing.
“The 3D mammogram has been shown to not only find more cancers than the standard 2D, but also reduce the need for women to come back for additional images,” Dr. Gregston said. “The improved visualization means we can see around normal tissue to the cancer that may be hiding behind it or determine something is perfectly normal.”
Annual mammograms are recommended for women age 40 and older, and the new law requires insurers to cover those screenings. “We recommend that all women, even those with no family history of breast cancer, have a mammogram every year beginning at age 40,” said Dr. Gregston. “Remember – the risk of developing breast cancer increases every year at least into the mid-80s. Women should continue getting their yearly screenings until health reasons would limit treatment.”
The requirement for insurance coverage for 3D mammograms was included in Missouri House Bill 1252, which was passed by the legislature and signed by the governor.
Missouri joins more than ten other states which require 3D mammography coverage. Those other states include Oklahoma, which started requiring coverage on Nov. 1, 2018, and Arkansas, which started requiring coverage in 2017.
It all boils down to longer lives and more time with loved ones. “Screening mammograms have lowered breast cancer mortality by nearly 40 percent since 1990,” Dr. Gregston said. “I believe increased use of 3D mammograms will see that trend continue to improve. We’ll see more cures and fewer deaths, because we’ll find cancer when it’s at its smallest, earliest stages.”
Mercy offers free 3D mammograms year-round through its partnership with the Breast Cancer Foundation of the Ozarks, so there’s no need to delay your screening. For more information, call 417-862-3838.