State senator seeks to raise awareness
By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Constituents who live in state Sen. Diane Savino’s district opened their mailboxes this week to find a brochure from the lawmaker. But the mailing wasn’t a campaign brochure.
The subject of the brochure was health, not politics.
The brochure, which contained facts and breast and ovarian cancer, is part of an effort by Savino (D-Coney Island-Bensonhurst-Staten Island) to raise awareness of these two types of cancer. Savino arranged for thousands of the brochures to be mailed out to constituents. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
The mailing includes information on the risk factors, causes and ways to reduce the risk of getting breast or ovarian cancer, along with a listing of websites such as the New York State Department of Health and the American Cancer Society, where women can obtain additional information.
Savino said she commissioned the brochure to urge women to take control of their health and to get the proper screenings for gynecological cancers. “There are so many things we can avoid if we took control of our health,” she told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle in a phone interview on Friday. She wanted to put the information at women's fingertips, she said, by providing them with a brochure they could read at their leisure.
Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in women, behind lung cancer. The New York State Department of Health‘s website states that some 14,000 women are diagnosed every year in the state. Nearly 2,700 patients die of the disease each year.
The statistics on ovarian cancer are grim, according to the brochure. In New York State, 1,500 women are diagnosed annually. More than 1,000 women die each year.
Women who get the cancer screenings and receive a clean bill of health can breathe a sigh of relief. And those who are screened regularly and find then one year find that they do have one of these cancers has the knowledge that the disease was detected early on, when treatment options are still available and the chances of survival are high.
While there is a great awareness of breast cancer, and the symptoms are well documented, ovarian cancer is a different story. “Ovarian cancer is a lot harder to detect and harder to treat,” Savino said. Because its symptoms, which include bloating, pelvic pain and fatigue, are vague, women often ignore them and are later diagnosed with ovarian cancer when the disease is in its advanced stages.
Women over the age of 40 should get an annual mammogram to test for breast cancer, a Pap test to detect cervical cancer and a retro-vaginal pelvic exam to screen for ovarian cancer.
Women often neglect their health, according to Savino, who said their reluctance to stay on top of it sometimes stems from shyness and sometimes from fear.
Women should talk to their doctors about these screenings, Savino said. “A lot of women will say, ‘I don’t want to bother the doctor.’ I’m saying to them, ‘Bother the doctor!’" she said.
"They’re shy. They think the doctor is too busy, or they won’t bring it up because the doctor hasn’t mentioned it. They think the doctor knows best. But it’s important to bring these issues to the doctor’s attention and ask questions,” she said.
Another problem is the desire to avoid discomfort. “Women don’t like to go to the gynecologist. It’s uncomfortable. But it’s necessary,” Savino said.
To her frustration, Savino said she finds that even when she sponsors free mammograms and has a medical mobile van come to her district, women still don’t bother to get the test. “We find we tend to capture the natural health seekers,” she said, describing people who already are on top of their health.
There is also misinformation out there about ovarian cancer screenings, according to Savino. “A lot of women think that the Pap test detects ovarian cancer. It doesn’t. The pap test is for cervical cancer,” she said.
It’s unclear if ObamaCare will lure more women to the doctor's office, Savino said. The health exchange sign-up period began on Oct. 1. "The goal of ObamaCare is to get people insurance coverage. Just because people are covered doesn’t mean they’ll use it,” she said.
For more information on the brochure, call Savino’s office at 718-727-9406.