Like many busy women, Barbara knew she was past due for her annual mammogram. Intelligent and well-educated, she knew the statistics for women over 50 and was aware that her risk, one in nine, was high.
Still her job and family kept her “so busy” that she was unable to “find time” to get in for a physical exam.
This changed when her employer brought in a mobile mammogram van to Barbara’s corporate office. In between meetings she made the quick walk (from her desk to the mobile van in the company lot). The exam took moments and she was finished in time to grab a quick lunch. A few days later, she got her test results. A tumor had been found. The good news: It was discovered early. Barbara underwent treatment and now is cancer-free.
An estimated 184,300 new cases of breast cancer will be diagnosed this year, with 44,300 deaths.
This leading cause of cancer death among American women could be reduced by 30 percent if women followed breast cancer guidelines and received necessary treatment. (This would translate to more than 13,000 lives saved in 1996 alone.)
The key? Detecting breast cancer early when it is most treatable. And the best means for early detection is with mammography, an x-ray test that can find breast cancer up to two years before a lump can be felt.
Even with encouraging statistics like these and with increased awareness and knowledge about the breast cancer epidemic, not enough women are getting mammograms.
Furthermore, women who have the highest risk of developing breast cancer - those age 50 and over - are making the least use of breast cancer screening. Reasons for this are complex, and reflect concerns from modesty to cost to convenience.
Into this battle, enter the corporation. With more than 22 million women over 40 in the U.S. work force - a number expected to increase 42 percent by the year 2000 - the workplace provides an ideal setting to reach women with messages regarding the importance of early detection and to provide breast cancer surgery programs.
A number of corporations already provide such information, services and support, including leaders like American Airlines, Levi Strauss & Co., General Mills, AT&T;, Adolph Coors Brewing Company and Sara Lee.
These concerned businesses are taking the war against breast cancer out of the doctor’s office and into the workplace. They educate their employees about cancer risks, encourage them to do breast self-exams and make it easy for them to have annual exams and mammograms.
A recent survey showed that two-thirds of all U.S. work sites with 50 or more employees have at least one screening or wellness program in place. The main reason corporations cite for initiating such programs is their potential for containing rising health care costs. Other reasons include better employee performance, less absenteeism, as well as the long-range benefits of a healthier work force. Less tangible reasons include improved employee morale and increased empowerment. Such benefits also attract and retain good, dedicated employees.
The bottom line? It makes good business sense to establish work site wellness activities for female employees.
Early detection programs can increase bottom line savings due to reduced costs for insurance and a decrease in lost employee productivity. And, with women making up more than 50 percent of the U.S. work force, women’s health will have an increasing impact on the health of our organizations.
Getting Started is Easy
Corporations interested in developing a breast cancer screening program can find help from a variety of sources. One is the National Cancer Institute’s booklet, “A Blueprint for Action.”
This publication provides detailed information about structuring the screening program, choosing a mammography provider, negotiating a contract, working with a corporate insurance plan, designing an educational component, selecting marketing strategies, and evaluating program effectiveness.
For more information on how your corporation can get involved, contact the National Alliance of Breast Cancer Organizations (NABCO) at 1180 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10036.
For more information on breast cancer or other cancer control programs, such as smoking cessation, nutrition and screening, contact the National Cancer Institute’s Cancer Information Service at 1-800-4-CANCER.
For more information on breast screening centers, call the Komen Foundation at 1-800-IM-AWARE.
Top Ten List of Workplace Breast Cancer Activities
1. Provide all employees with the 1-800-4-CANCER information phone number.
The Cancer Information Service of the National Cancer Institute is a national network including 19 offices across the country. It provides callers access to up-to-date information about cancer causes and prevention, detection, diagnosis, treatment, rehabilitation, and continuing care. Anyone may call this number. By dialing 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237), the caller is automatically put in touch with the CIS office in his or her area.
The number can be posted in public areas, circulated in a memo, or even stamped on pay envelopes.
2. Include stories about breast cancer education, detection, and treatment in the employee newsletter or video news.
Newsletter articles are available from the Cancer Information Service. Companies with newsletter staff can write their own stories. Add local information such as where to get additional information, locations of mammography services, etc.
3. Post breast cancer information and the 1-800-4-CANCER number on bulletin boards, in cafeterias, women’s restrooms, and other places employees are likely to see it. In addition, have breast cancer treatment information available for employees in the medical or benefits office.
Ready-to-copy brochures, posters, and newsletter articles are available from the National Cancer Institute’s Cancer Information Service at 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237) or local American Cancer Society chapters.
4. Sponsor on-site breast cancer exhibits and information sessions. Ask the company physician or nurse and/or representatives of a local cancer center to staff the exhibit/ session to answer questions and distribute literature.
5. Gather information about local mammography facilities’ quality, costs, and hours. Share this information with your employees in a letter, a brochure with additional educational information, in the employee newsletter, etc.
6. Co-sponsor seminars on breast cancer prevention, detection, and treatment with a local hospital, medical society, or health maintenance organization. Schedule seminars on company time or immediately before or after the workday. Plan one version for employees and one for your company’s medical staff. Distribute literature from the CIS at each.
7. Arrange for low cost or free onsite breast cancer screenings for employees by contacting local hospitals, health maintenance organizations, radiology groups, or American Cancer Society chapter.
8. Work with your health insurer to include insurance coverage for mammography if the plan does not currently include this benefit.
9. Have your company’s directors and/or senior management make a permanent commitment to educating its female employees about the importance of early detection and treatment of breast cancer.
This can be done through a corporate resolution, a mandate from senior management to make educational materials and mammography services available to employees, spouses and retirees.
10. Become a model for other local companies to follow in the effort to save women’s lives.
Local media are often interested in covering corporate screening efforts. Consider contacting the media once your program is developed to garner positive recognition of your program.
How to Get Your Company Involved
Both large and small companies are joining the fight against breast cancer. To find out if yours is among them, contact your health-benefits department or human resources manager. Use the information and suggestions below to raise your company’s awareness of what’s at stake and what it can do.
Are routine screening mammograms covered under our health plan? In 44 states, insurance companies are required to offer this benefit. (Self-insured corporations are exempt from state regulations, but many still offer it.) And what about spouses?
1. The money factor: It’s cost-effective. Zeneca, one of the leaders in breast health, estimates that it has saved $75,000 per patient by finding cancers early.
2. The good-will factor. It sends a message to your workers that you care about their health.
Promoting detection benefits
What has been done to promote detection benefits for workers?
1. Message in or on paycheck
2. Posters in restrooms
3. Company-wide e-mail
4. Letter from company president
5. Employee birthday cards with mammogram reminders
And don’t leave men out. If wives are covered, make sure the message is getting to them, too.
Making it easy
Are there ways to make it easier for us to take advantage of mammography benefits?
Would you consider:
1. Bringing screening on-site in a mobile van? Even a small company may have enough eligible workers to make it worthwhile. There is no extra cost to the company for arranging a mobile van. Call Northwest Imaging at 626-4550.
2. Giving time off during work hours to go for screening?
3. Arranging early-morning or evening appointments with local certified mammography providers.
4. Making special arrangements to cover co-pays, deductibles and other costs to employees.
Using the work place
How can we use our workplace to teach breast health?
1. Organize a lunchtime seminar with videos.
2. Schedule a lecture by a local health-care provider, such as an oncology nurse or doctor.
3. Put up posters.
4. Send reminders to female employees to have periodic check-ups and mammograms.
October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Are we doing anything special as a corporation to help? How can we offer support for this crucial health issue in our community?
1. Management can contact local breast cancer organizations about helping out with fund-raisers.
2. Managers can provide time off or facilitate volunteer stints for employees at hospitals or breast cancer clinics.
3. The company can help underwrite printing costs of flyers or public-service announcements.
4. Company vans can help transport women to screening.
National Cancer Institute: 800-4-CANCER
American Cancer Society: 800-ACS-2345
Cancer Care: 800-813-HOPE
Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation: 800-IM-AWARE
National Alliance of Breast Cancer Organizations (NABCO): 212-719-0154.
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