Days ago, the actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus shared her breast cancer diagnosis on Twitter. “1 in 8 women get breast cancer. Today, I’m the one,” she wrote.
“The good news is that I have the most glorious group of supportive and caring family and friends, and fantastic insurance through my union,” she stated. “The bad news is that not all women are so lucky, so let’s fight all cancers and make universal health care a reality.”
Louis-Dreyfus, age 56, gave no further details about her condition. Yet her disclosure raises discussion of the positive impact of breast cancer awareness, the unfortunate frequency of this disease, and benefits of having medical insurance.
Yes, we’ve come a long way since the days of Betty Ford. Today, many people talk about breast cancer openly, on-line and in their physical communities. Consider how much has changed since the late Lisa Bonchek Adams began tweeting, in 2009, before dying from breast cancer in 2015. For her openness, she met with flak and, also, earned respect of multitudes. Of course, some women remain tight-lipped about breast cancer. But it’s our choice, now. Almost any patient can ask questions, voice concerns, and find varied perspectives on breast cancer and treatment options.
In 2017, our collective comfort level with the topic of breast cancer is off-the-charts high. Which is great. Because for women to get cancer care, they need not be afraid to enter a medical office. They need to know what kinds of questions to ask of their doctors, to avoid undertreatment or overtreatment. Years ago in my community, some women avoided evaluation of possible breast tumors due to stigma. This kind of thinking persists in less modern regions of the world and even, still, in some communities in North America. Lingering fear and ignorance about breast cancer results in women not receiving therapy that might be life-saving or otherwise helpful. For this reason, I don’t take awareness for granted.
Louis-Dreyfus highlighted the “1 in 8” statistic in her post. The inescapable point is that breast cancer is too common. According to the National Cancer Institute, over 252,000 people in the United States will find out they have an invasive breast tumor in 2017. Approximately 12.4% of women will receive this diagnosis during their lifetime. Breast cancer, in its many forms, affects people of all ethnic groups. Despite progress, this disease will take some 41,000 American lives this year, and over half a million around the globe.
The actress concluded her note by pointing to the critical issue of universal health care. She was right to do so. Because among women with invasive breast cancer, having good insurance affects the stage at diagnosis, prognosis, and likelihood of a favorable outcome. A recent reportfound a shift toward lower-stage disease since passage of the Affordable Care Act. This finding supports that disparities in breast cancer stage and outcomes can be reduced by removing financial obstacles to screening, such as copays. A paper presented at this year’s ASCO meeting found that stage of breast cancer diagnosis and risk of death are significantly higher in U.S. women who lack private insurance.