International Women's Day

Lynette Bonanni, of Galloway Township, prepares patient Cindy Erickson, of Galloway Township, for a mammogram inside the Dr. Jan Astin Mobile Digital Mammography Van, which was parked Wednesday in front of Chick-fil-A in Egg Harbor Township. ‘It’s really convenient for us to come here, and it’s for everybody, whether you have insurance or not,’ Erickson says.

A five-year national study that will look at improving breast cancer screening guidelines will track mammogram testing for thousands of New Jersey participants.

Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey will cover the cost of 5,000 of its members to participate in the Women Informed to Screen Depending On Measures of Risk study, which seeks to clarify if routine yearly screening or a personalized screening schedule is safer and more effective for women.

“By supporting the development of better screening guidelines, we can give our physician partners a better tool to help their patients, help women avoid unnecessary tests and procedures, and lower the total cost of care for our members,” Horizon CEO Kevin Conlin said in a statement.

After skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed among New Jersey women and the second-leading cause of death, according to the state Department of Health. Experts find about 7,350 cases of breast cancer each year in New Jersey.

The national study is being conducted by the Athena Breast Health Network, a group of breast cancer experts, health care providers, researchers and patient advocates at University of California Medical Centers.

Researchers will compare a group of women who get mammograms on an annual screening schedule to another group that will get a personalized screening schedule based on genetic testing, family history, breast density, age and other factors.

Eligible participants are Horizon customers between 40 and 74 years old who have not had a mastectomy, breast cancer or ductal carcinoma in situ. Women will be randomly assigned into the annual or personalized screening groups, though a woman who prefers to choose her own screening schedule can do so.

Women in the personalized screening group will be asked to submit saliva samples for the genetic testing of nine genes associated with increased breast cancer risk. A genetic testing kit will be mailed to their homes and must be returned.

The results will be used to help determine each woman’s individual risk of developing breast cancer, which will dictate how often she will get a mammogram.

Participants in both groups can have their screenings done locally at any facilities within Horizon’s network. Horizon officials said there will be no new or additional costs for members who chose to do the study.

“. . . the most recent data shows that 1 in 5 women age 50 to 74 living here did not have a mammogram,” Horizon Vice President and Chief Medical Officer Thomas Graf said in a statement. “Improving breast cancer screening protocols can help us close that gap in care and focus on reaching women with a higher risk profile.”

To learn more about the study and how to participate, see

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