Opinion

A Call for Personalized Breast Care for Our Military Service Members and Veterans

My best friend. My daughter’s ballet teacher. My co-worker. My cousin. I’ve lost each of these vibrant women to breast cancer. With 1 in 8 women developing invasive breast cancer in their lifetime, breast cancer affects us all — whether it’s a wife, daughter, sister, mom, friend, colleague or ourselves. 

As we recognize Breast Cancer Awareness Month, now is an important time to discuss how we can continue to combat this widespread disease. 

For me and the 2 million women veterans across the United States, there is an even greater risk: We face a 20 to 40 percent higher rate of breast cancer than the general population, a rate potentially attributable to screening access, toxic exposures and reproductive history. A 2014 study by the Department of Defense also identified military occupational assignments, deployments or other service-related experiences as possible risk factors for service members.

I served as a U.S. Army Medical Service Corps officer, holding several roles during my 10 years in uniform. While I served, several pivotal moments of my personal health care journey shaped me for my current role as GE Healthcare’s primary liaison with the DOD for military health. In this role, I have the unique opportunity to provide innovative medical imaging technology to those who serve and to offer an understanding of the military’s needs, particularly for women. 

Just as the military uses multiple branches to complete its mission, we at GE Healthcare leverage multiple technologies to provide a patient-centric approach to breast health. Factoring in a patient’s age, breast density and risk factors, along with early detection, is critical to providing the best defense against breast cancer. Finding breast cancer early reduces a woman’s risk of dying from the disease by 25 to 30 percent or more. Not getting a mammogram or having access to the correct diagnostic screening can delay a breast cancer diagnosis and impact a patient’s long-term odds. 

Women’s health issues are often misunderstood and go unaddressed. By better understanding the additional risks and challenges we face regarding breast health, servicewomen and women veterans can play an active role in their patient experience. 

Handing some of the control over to the patient, our latest mammography technology allows patients to control their own compression under the guidance of a technologist, reducing scan time and improving patient comfort. It is this patient-centric health care experience that will benefit not only our servicewomen and women veterans, but all women. 

By 2040, the Department of Veterans Affairs expects women to make up nearly 18 percent of the veteran population. The Advisory Committee on Women Veterans recently reviewed the great work from the agency to support services for the increasing number of women veterans, ranging from the expansion of the Women’s Health Transition Training to an interagency effort between the DOD and VA on exposure registries. 

On Capitol Hill, I am encouraged to see seven women veterans serving in Congress and advocating for my sisters in uniform; the launch of the Women Veterans Task Force, led by Congresswoman Julia Brownley (D-Calif.); and deliberate attention to fiscal appropriations for services for women veterans by Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.). Veteran service organizations are leading at the grassroots level by providing services directly to veterans and amplifying our voices.  

On Sept. 12, GE Healthcare convened a panel of distinguished radiologists and medical professionals, leaders in patient advocacy, and servicewomen and women veterans advocacy to discuss best practices in breast health and the unique risks and considerations facing servicewomen and women veterans. 

Through continued collaboration and research, we can bring life-changing programs, solutions and technologies to servicewomen and women veterans. Together, we can provide a personalized breast health experience, fight breast cancer and help care for all women who serve.

 

Danielle Carosello is executive director for the Department of Defense at GE Healthcare.

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