Taking the Lead: Breast cancer screening at a cost

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GLEN ALLEN, Va. (WRIC) — Sarah Cash snapped a photo with her daughters at the beach in August. She is smiling and looks radiant in a pink shirt.  ooking at her, you would never know she was just nine days away from having surgery at VCU Massey Cancer Center for invasive lobular carcinoma.

“It was caught very, very early.  It was very small.  It was only about a half a centimeter,” Cash says.  “The radiologist said that if it had been on just a regular mammogram, it would not have been caught.”

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During her screening at the Ellen Shaw de Paredes Institute for Women’s Imaging in June, Cash opted for a 3D mammogram.  With this type of screening, about sixty images are captured as the camera makes an arc.

A 2014 study found when coupled with traditional mammograms, 3D technology yielded a 41% increase in invasive breast cancer cases, a 29% increase in all breast cancers and a 15% decrease in the recall rate.  Still, insurance usually does not cover it.

d3c32affe6904240bac73638b088463f“I don’t understand why when there’s clear evidence that it is catching things much earlier, why they would not want to support that?” Cash wonders.

According to Anthem, 3D mammograms are “investigational and not medically necessary.”  Aetna considers the screening “investigational because of insufficient evidence of its effectiveness.”  United Healthcare says not enough is known about 3D mammograms being “effective for the screening or diagnosis of breast cancer.”

“If mine had progressed further, they would have ended up paying more for different treatments like chemo or whatever else I might have needed,” says Cash.

Cash paid for a percentage out of pocket for her 3D mammogram but knows other women may not be in a position to cover the expense.  Today she says she is living proof of the screening’s value.

“It might have been a different story if it had been a year or two down the road, so I’m just very thankful.”

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Analysts are hopeful private insurers will soon cover 3D mammography in full or a larger percentage of the screening since Medicare began covering it in 2015.

This is a developing story. Stay with 8News online and on air for the latest updates.

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