October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and there is much to celebrate.

Earlier detection and better treatments mean that fewer women are dying from breast cancer. From 1989 to 2016, the number of breast cancer deaths has declined by 40%, according to the American Cancer Society. Today, the overall survival rate for breast cancer in the United States is very close to 90 percent, the highest it has ever been, giving most patients reason to be optimistic.

More good news: Since September 2010, all new insurance plans are required to cover screening mammograms every one to two years with no out-of-pocket costs (co-payments or co-insurance) for women ages 40 and older.

And now for the bad news: Less than half of Wyoming women ages 45 to 54 receive an annual mammogram as recommended by the American Cancer Society. Only Idaho has a worse track record for women following the American Cancer Society’s recommended mammogram schedule.

This is not a category you want to be a leader in. Findings from randomized trials of women in their 40s and 50s have demonstrated that screening mammograms decrease breast cancer deaths by 15 to 29 percent.

Not all organizations agree on breast cancer screening guidelines, but most emphasize meeting with your doctor to review the risks, limitations and benefits of mammograms in order to determine what’s right for your particular situation.

Yes, the experience of getting a mammogram may be uncomfortable and awkward – physically and emotionally. But, they’re also the most effective way to detect a tumor early.

In Wyoming, if you do not have insurance and cannot pay for a mammogram, financial assistance is available through the Wyoming Cancer Program. More information is available by calling 888-684-4550 or visiting www.health.wyo.gov/wcrs.

The Wyoming Breast Cancer Initiative’s voucher program, in partnership with the Wyoming Department of Health, directly supports uninsured or underinsured Wyoming residents that are not eligible for state assistance. In northeastern Wyoming, call 888-684-4550.

If you’re due for a mammogram, don’t let feelings of awkwardness or finances keep you from making that appointment now.

The life you save may be your own.

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