Congress Considers Breast Cancer Reform Bills

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., who self-diagnosed a lump at age 41, only six weeks after being given a clean bill of health after a mammogram, has introduced HR 1740 Breast Cancer Education and Awareness, The EARLY Act.

The bill would promote a public health campaign to teach young women that breast cancer is not an old woman's disease. Every witness testified to an urgent need to educate young women. Each year 24,000 women under 45 are diagnosed with breast cancer in the United States.

Victims Share Their Personal Battles

Wasserman Schultz said early education is particularly important because "young women's cancers are generally more aggressive, are diagnosed at a later stage and result in higher mortality rates."

Many in the committee room noted Wasserman Schultz's personal battle with breast cancer and her efforts on behalf of the bill.

When Pallone said he hoped to "move on the legislation," Wasserman Schultz responded, "I've been a legislator for a long time, and any which way this bill becomes law is fine with me."

Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Fla., sponsored HR2279, Eliminating Disparities in Breast Cancer Treatment Act to assure all women "receive the best modern care for breast cancer."

She said the bill was necessary because minority groups -- especially African Americans, Latinas, Asian Americans and American Indians -- often do not receive vital breast cancer screening.

"Ten percent of African American women were less likely to get screening to see if cancer had spread to lymph nodes," she said.

"It will save lives, save money and it will save heartache," she said of the bill.

But some Republicans questioned whether the bills were necessary. Rep Phil Gingrey, R-Ga., said that deaths from breast cancer had dropped more than 2 percent since 1990 due to early detection, which denotes "our health care system is the best in the world."

He said the bills need to be looked at in context with the federal health care reform proposals.

All the women legislators at today's session wore something pink, a dress, a suit or a blouse, in solidarity with cancer victims. Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Md., noted the visual and apologized for not observing the color code.

"I'm embarrassed that I am not wearing pink, but I am turning pink with embarrassment," he said. "That will have to do."

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