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Letters to Your Health

Tuesday, June 12, 2001

Support the cancer therapies bill

I am writing to express my support for the Access to Cancer Therapies Act, a bipartisan bill extending Medicare Part B coverage to all oral anticancer drugs. Cancer is a disease strongly associated with aging, and Medicare beneficiaries are disproportionately affected. At present, cancer therapy is largely covered for Medicare beneficiaries because the program pays for drugs given by health professionals. In the future, however, drugs to fight cancer will increasingly be available in oral form patients take themselves. These new oral drugs have shown remarkable targeted activity against a number of cancers with few serious side effects.

I am an oncologist treating cancer patients in Franklin, Pa. I support a comprehensive Medicare prescription drug benefit, but all indications are that it will be an uphill battle. Some of the most impressive of these new drugs will be on the market during this year, probably well in advance of any comprehensive Medicare drug coverage. If Part B coverage is not extended to the new oral anticancer agents, then patients will increasingly be required to shoulder costs now covered by the Medicare program. This could be disastrous for people with cancer.


Franklin, PA

You needn't wait for a mammogram

As president of a group of local radiologists with a special interest in mammography and breast cancer diagnosis, I offer the following suggestions:

Don't give up. It can be easy to get discouraged or forget about a mammogram appointment if you have to wait a few months for the test. If you have a breast problem or if you are overdue for your yearly mammogram, you should not have to wait. Ask to be seen within a reasonable amount of time. If you cannot be accommodated, consider going to another mammogram center. Backlogs at different facilities can vary tremendously, from virtually no wait to over three months' delay. Ask your doctor, friends, and relatives for mammogram center recommendations.

Contact your insurer. Some insurance plans limit where you can go for your mammogram. If the mammogram facilities on the approved list have unacceptably long waits, speak with your insurance company about being seen elsewhere. Unless the insurer hears about access problems from a large number of women, they may not know that there is a genuine need to expand that list.

Write to your representatives in Congress. Much of the backlog stems from a shortage of radiologists, many of whom stopped interpreting mammograms because they were losing money on the test. The "Assure Access to Mammography Act of 2001," under consideration inCongress, would increase Medicare payments for mammograms and increase funding for training programs.

Spread the word. Getting yearly mammograms starting at age 40 is one of the best preventive measures a woman can take. Although not perfect, mammography is the only screening test that has been proven to save lives from breast cancer. Tell any woman you care about to (1) get yearly mammograms, (2) examine her breasts monthly, and (3) have her doctor examine her breasts yearly. You just might save her life.


Fox Chapel


Mammographers' Society

of Pittsburgh

Guidelines for a breast-feeding friendly workplace

Kudos to Post-Gazette Staff Writer Ann Belser for sharing the frustrations she and many other nursing mothers have experienced when expressing breast milk in the workplace (Your Health, June 5). The consultants at The Lactation Center at Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC Health System have worked with hundreds of women to encourage them to make their place of work "breast-feeding friendly."

Our guidelines for an appropriate environment include a clean, private, secure room that is equipped with a telephone, electrical outlets, and a hospital-grade breast pump. Access to restroom facilities for hand-washing and cleaning pumping equipment is needed. We advise women to make arrangements with their employer before their baby is born so that they aren't caught without an adequate place to express milk when they return to work.

For these women, simple accommodations on the part of their employer can boost morale. Providing a private, adequate space for breast-feeding goes a long way to help employees.

The returns to the employer are great as well. As last year's winner of the Allegheny County Health Department's Breastfeeding Friendly Workplace Award, Magee-Womens Hospital knows first-hand how important this is to staff who are breast-feeding. A woman can return to work, feeling more satisfied in about her role as a mother when she is able to provide the best source of nutrition possible for her infant. Absenteeism is reduced because breast-fed babies generally are sick less often, reducing the need for mom to call off from work.

We applaud those companies that have recognized the value of accommodating their employees who are breast-feeding, and we will continue to help women so they can breast-feed and return to work more comfortably.



The Lactation Center

Magee-Womens Hospital

PNC Cares about nursing moms

Regarding the June 5 Your Health article, "Get Pumped," all of us at PNC Financial Services Group can proudly say that California is not the only place where companies care about their female employees who breast-feed.

At PNC, we created 17 "New Mothers' Rooms," including five in Downtown Pittsburgh, for our nursing moms. We provide a private, comfortable room; state-of-the-art pumps from Medela; refrigerators and support information. Above all these amenities, however, we have built a culture to support every employee's ability to navigate work and personal life. In fact, quality of life, respect and diversity are among PNC's seven "core values."

With Downtown's only corporate-supported child-care center and 33 percent of our employees taking advantage of flexible work arrangements, such as compressed workweek and job sharing, PNC is among Pittsburgh's employee-friendly companies, building the Pittsburgh region's reputation as a progressive place to live and work.


Manager, Work/Life & Diversity

PNC Financial Services Group


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