Two Bills before Congress Aim to Fight Breast Cancer and End Disparities in Care


Key Points

  • New legislation aims to eliminate breast cancer by 2020 and end disparities in breast cancer treatment and care, especially for minority women.
  • Studies show that only one-third of women with breast cancer discuss reconstruction options with their surgeon before their mastectomy.
  • Minority women are significantly less likely than Caucasian women to see a plastic surgeon before their initial surgery and were more likely to desire more information about reconstruction.

Members of Congress are considering two bills that could advance cures for breast cancer and provide better education for women grappling with decisions about their treatment options.

Accelerating the End of Breast Cancer Act

Accelerating the End of Breast Cancer Act of 2013 (S. 865/H.R. 1830) calls for the establishment of a commission composed of biomedical researchers, patient advocates, and other experts to develop viable initiatives for eliminating breast cancer by 2020. The commission members will focus on identifying strategies not currently in use in the primary prevention of breast cancer and in understanding and preventing metastasis.

Some of the reasons the bill’s sponsors gave for launching the commission include their findings showing that:

  • Over the past 40 years, very little has improved the incidence, morbidity, and mortality rates of breast cancer;
  • In recognition of the complexity of breast cancer, experts have identified the need to transform how research is conducted by engaging investigators from many disciplines;
  • Advances in understanding the progression of breast cancer, particularly metastasis, have the potential to translate to better understanding and preventing the spread of other types of cancer; and
  • In the United States, the chance of a woman developing breast cancer during her lifetime has increased from 1 in 11 in 1975 to 1 in 8 today.

Breast Cancer Patient Education Act

The second bill, the Breast Cancer Patient Education Act of 2013 (S.931.IS/H.R. 1984), is meant to ensure that all breast cancer patients, “especially patients who are members of racial and ethnic minority groups,” receive complete information of their disease, treatment, and care options, including the availability and coverage of breast reconstruction procedures and prostheses. A study published in the journal Cancer in 2008 found that only one-third of patients with breast cancer discussed reconstruction options with their surgeon prior to their mastectomy.

Among the reasons the legislation’s sponsors cite for championing the bill include the recognition that while “breast cancer has a disproportionate and detrimental impact on African-American women and is the most common cancer among Hispanic women,” study results “suggest that there is a substantial unmet need for information, especially among racial and ethnic minority groups regarding reconstruction options and coverage required by the Women’s Health and Cancer Rights Act of 1998.”

The Breast Cancer Patient Education Act cites several studies showing the barriers preventing minority patients from getting comparable care Caucasian women receive, including a 2009 study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, which found that minority women are significantly less likely than Caucasians to see a plastic surgeon before initial surgery for a mastectomy and were more likely to desire more information about reconstruction. Decisional satisfaction was also lowest among minority women who did not have reconstruction.

Informing Patients of Their Treatment Options

To ensure minority women receive the information they need to make informed choices about their treatment and reconstruction or prostheses options following a mastectomy, the Breast Cancer Patient Education Act would direct the Secretary of Health and Human Services to plan and implement an education campaign to inform breast cancer patients about their options before surgery.

The content in this post has not been reviewed by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, Inc. (ASCO®) and does not necessarily reflect the ideas and opinions of ASCO®.