Fearing Breast Cancer’s Costs

Today in The Journal News, features writer Linda Lombroso begins our coverage of breast cancer awareness month with a look at battling breast cancer in today’s economy: Fearing Breast Cancer’s Costs. She’ll also have another in-depth look at this subject in tomorrow’s Life & Style section. You can read today’s story by following the link above, or clicking the “more” button, just below.

Linda Lombroso/llombros@lohud.com

Silvia Flores put off going to the doctor when she found a lump in her breast.

Clara Castillo had a double mastectomy but worried she wouldn’t be able to afford reconstructive surgery.

Though both women had jobs, neither had health insurance — a troubling fact that complicated their attitudes toward treatment.

As Breast Cancer Awareness Month begins today amid a troubled economy, doctors say women and their families increasingly are worrying about treatment costs and how to pay for them.

“When we found out, my husband said, ‘We’re going to sell the car, we’re going to sell the house,’ ” Flores said, noting they lacked the safety net that insurance would have provided.

Families without insurance — or those who are underinsured — face a double burden: fighting for their lives and worrying about how to pay for care.

A recent report from the Commonwealth Fund found that 72 percent of people who lost their health insurance when they became unemployed over the past two years skipped needed health care because of concerns about cost.

Treatment for breast cancer can cost thousands of dollars — even for those with insurance — with higher costs for cancer that has spread beyond the breast. While one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer, early detection remains key to higher survival rates.

The Affordable Care Act, signed into law this year, requires health plans to cover annual mammograms without charging a co-payment or deductible. But in the current economy, women with and without health insurance are putting off routine mammograms for fear they won’t be able to pay for treatment.

“It’s a staggering problem, and I think it’s getting worse,” said Dr. Patricia Joseph, director of Breast and Women’s Health Prevention Services at Nyack Hospital. “They certainly have a lot on their plates — the kids and the house and the mortgage — and women tend to put themselves on the back burner.”

Aside from worries about money, some women don’t understand the implications of letting breast cancer go undetected.

“There are so many women who feel that, ‘Whatever happens, I can’t do anything about it,’ but it’s absolutely not true,” said Dr. Karen Karsif, director of the Center for Breast Health at Good Samaritan Hospital in Suffern. “The percentage of women who are surviving breast cancer is increasing as more women are getting early screening, so that it can be detected earlier.”

Above all, doctors say, worries about finances should never prevent women from taking care of their health. Free and low-cost services are available locally for breast-cancer screening, treatment and support, including mammograms, rides to treatment and care from specialists affiliated with top hospitals in the Lower Hudson Valley.

A good place to start is the American Cancer Society (www.cancer.org), which offers 24-hour support, with information on everything from help with insurance co-payments to options for free treatment.

“I tell everybody, ‘Please check yourself,’ ” said Flores, of Rye Brook, who had a lumpectomy, finished chemotherapy and currently is undergoing radiation treatments.

Since her mastectomy, Castillo, of North Salem, sees her oncologist every six months.

“Do not put this off,” Joseph said. “If you are sick, you can’t take care of your family.”

Liz Johnson

Liz Johnson is the food editor of The Journal News and LoHud.com, for which she's won awards from the New York News Publishers Association, the Association of Food Journalists and the Associated Press. She lives in Nyack with her husband and daughter on a tiny suburban lot they call their farm — with fruit trees, an herb garden, and a yardful of lettuce, tomatoes, onions, shallots, cucumbers, zucchini, radishes, cabbage, peppers, Brussels sprouts and carrots and four big blueberry bushes.