Mammogram patients can identify failing clinics

Mammograms save the lives of our wives, mothers and sisters.  Our executives and secretaries.  Teachers and students. That’s why annual mammograms are recommended for all women 40 and older and federal law requires every mammography machine be inspected once per year.

But what if a clinic is repeatedly cited for being in violation of yearly state and federal safety standards, and is not shut down, and the woman undergoing this already nerve-wracking (and uncomfortable) procedure has no way of knowing?  Believe it or not, that is exactly what is happening, and that is why Senate Bill 148 is supported by women, health and labor groups statewide.

My proposed consumer-protection measure would require mammogram providers to post citations issued by inspectors where their patients and staff can read them.  This requirement would apply to violations serious enough to affect the accuracy and quality of mammogram results.

Consider these facts:
• A woman has a one-in-eight chance of developing breast cancer.
• There are 4,000 deaths from breast cancer in California every year.
• African-American and Latina women are more likely than White women to die from breast cancer due to it being detected and diagnosed at a later, less treatable stage.

Make no mistake, regular mammograms are a remarkable success story in American medicine. According to American Cancer Society research, the death rate from breast cancer has been dropping roughly 2 percent annually since 1990.  Much of that decline is due to early detection of breast cancer, found through mammograms.  

Breast cancer is too often fatal, but not when it is caught early.  The five-year survival rate is greater than 95 per cent when the cancer is caught while still confined to the breast.

Mammography pays.

Mammography is so important, in fact, that soon after it was shown to save lives, the federal government adopted the Mammography Quality Standards Act of 1992.  This historically significant act requires that clinics providing mammography exams be certified annually as having properly functioning equipment used by qualified personnel.

But recent investigations have found that some clinics repeatedly fail their inspections.  In some cases, the violations of standards that caused them to fail get worse over time.  A major health provider in Los Angeles, for instance, was cited with less serious problems for 10 of 11 annual inspections before being cited with a serious problem that the inspectors said might compromise the quality of its mammograms.

In other words, a woman might have a mammogram that misses a cancer.

So, some of these clinics do not seem to take the law gravely enough.  Having to post a notification might force them to improve.  If we do think annual inspections are important, then we should make sure that it leads to safe, reliable mammograms and that the law is not flaunted.

Knowing violations must be posted would give women greater confidence in the medical offices they patronize.  They could rest easier knowing that they were receiving the best quality services.

The American Cancer Society, the California Nurses Association, the Disability Rights Legal Center, the Commission on the Status of Women, the Breast Cancer Fund, Breast Cancer Action and the Latino Health Alliance all believe the public notice of citations is important enough to support SB 148.  Lawmakers agreed, which is why they approved the measure, sending it to Gov. Schwarzenegger on Sept. 4.  He has until mid-October to sign it, veto it or allow it to become law without his signature.
My bill would not cost the state anything.  But it would pay off in peace of mind.

The percentage of women getting their required mammograms has increased, but the most recent figures suggest this progress is slipping.  According to figures from the National Cancer Institute, use of mammography by women 40 years of age and older has declined 4 percent during the past nine years.

That is not good news.  We should not give women any reason to ignore this indispensable screening procedure. As a cancer survivor, I well understand its importance. This bill would help.  At the least, it would give women confidence that the results they receive are accurate. That is no small comfort.

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