When I received a call to join a meeting in the Chief Medical Officer's office, I was not sure what to expect. Several key physicians were going to be there to discuss the latest statistics from the Public Health Institute California Breast Cancer Mapping Project.
There are now four previously unidentified areas within California that have higher invasive breast cancer rates than the average within the state. Since breast cancer does not know boundaries, the breast cancer rates were drawn from census tract data. One of those counties and census tract regions is Eastern Ventura, where I live and work. Many of our patients live in this region as well, and as a comprehensive breast program, we wanted to respond to the latest report.
How do we explain the data to the public? How do we reassure patients? What is the message we want to convey without appearing to be an advertisement for breast cancer services at the hospital? How do we direct our outreach services and improve screening strategies in our region? We discussed this for over an hour and divided up the tasks for the next meeting.
It was obvious to all at the table that we needed a meaningful yet cautious approach. Not to downplay risks necessarily, but to raise awareness and allow women in the area to become proactive towards their own self-care without creating anxiety.
The project continues, but we will all be invited back to look at the agreed response and the resources we will apply to create a sense of security for our community. We want them to know that we are all working together for early detection.
A few caveats about breast cancer in California:
- 55 percent of California women who are diagnosed with breast cancer are under age 652.
- The rate for Asian women in California is going up while the rates for other ethnicities and races are declining2.
- Most women in California are getting screening mammograms as appropriate. Despite the USPTF recommendations, mammogram screening regimens continue to be yearly after age 40.
- Geographic patterns of breast cancer incidence in California vary widely and data needs to include traffic emissions, hazardous air pollutants, and agricultural pesticides3.
- Public Health Institute
- American Cancer Society Facts and Figures 2012
- California Detection Programs, Every Woman Counts®