In a matter of seconds, most people can think of eight women who are important in their lives, whether they are mothers, wives, sisters, daughters, friends or coworkers.

The ease with which most people can come up with this list just reinforces the prevalence of breast cancer in this country; according to the American Cancer Society, one in eight women will develop breast cancer in her lifetime.

“We estimate that more than 180,000 women in the United States will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer, while approximately 40,000 women will die from the disease this year,” says Robert Smith, Ph.D., director of cancer screening for the American Cancer Society.

According to Dr. Smith, encouraging women to have annual mammograms is one of the primary ways to increase early detection of the disease, which is important since breast cancer is more treatable the earlier it is discovered.

The importance of early detection is the main reason that Aetna, an insurer based in Hartford, Conn., worked with the American Cancer Society to develop an educational video entitled Mammograms Matter. The video, which can be viewed on the American Cancer society website
(, emphasizes the significance of mammograms for women 40 and older by showing several women — including breast cancer survivors — describe their feelings about breast cancer.

Education helps overcome fears
Before creating the video, Aetna worked with members who had never had a mammogram or who had not had one in the past five years. These meetings helped the company identify the main reasons the women did not undergo screenings, such as perceived pain and discomfort of the screening; fear of the unknown or finding out the results; and false confidence or misconceptions if there is no family history.

“We tried to address some of these points with statistics, such as the fact that 70 percent to 80 percent of breast cancer patients have no family history of breast cancer,” says Joanne Armstrong, M.D., a senior medical director at Aetna who is also featured in the video. “However, this video is mostly about the voices of the women who participated, trying to explain how important it is to get annual screenings.”

According to Dr. Armstrong, this video is just one way that insurers like Aetna are trying to educate women on the importance of mammography screenings. Through a separate program, Aetna makes targeted phone calls and sends mailings to Latina and African-American women who have not had their annual mammogram. This type of outreach, which is made in both English and Spanish, stresses the importance of screenings and can even help women find a local mammography center.

“Early detection of breast cancer is important for all women, but is particularly critical for African-American and Latina women, who are less likely to receive mammography screenings, and more likely to die from breast cancer because the condition is not identified early enough,” Dr. Armstrong says.
As this type of information and similar programs become more readily available to women, Dr. Smith is hopeful that the spread of the message will result in some tangible changes.

“If more women realized the true significance of regularly scheduled mammograms, we could reduce the pain and death associated with breast cancer,” Dr. Smith says. “Hopefully, videos like this one will help women overcome any fears they may have and get the appropriate screenings.”