The presidential debates have become a time-honored ritual of the fall campaign season. So, too, has the morning-after (or now minutes after) fact checking, provided by both the media and now, any viewer with a Twitter handle and an Internet connection.
During the town hall debate on Tuesday night, President Obama said, "There are millions of women all across the country who rely on Planned Parenthood for not just contraceptive care, they rely on it for mammograms, for cervical cancer screenings. That's a pocketbook issue for women and families all across the country."
Not surprisingly, political groups opposed to Planned Parenthood have questioned the president's statement, and have launched a campaign designed to attack the role Planned Parenthood health centers play in providing critical breast health care.
To understand how off-base their attacks are, let me share my story, which will probably sound familiar to millions of other women.
My mom had breast cancer when she was 53. My grandmother when she was in her late 40s. My great aunt in her early 40s. So I'm clearly considered high risk.
At 32, I had my first mammogram.
That year, I went to my gynecologist, got my clinical breast exam and explained my history in great detail. Based on the age of diagnoses of the women in my family, my doctor recommended that I go get a mammogram -- even though I was considerably under 40 years old. (Typically, screening mammograms are recommended for women over 40 -- but for women like me, they may be recommended at a younger age.)
So my gynecologist wrote me a referral, and I went to the mammography center near her office. All was good -- nothing to worry about.
As managing director of communications for the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, I hear similar stories like this all the time about Planned Parenthood patients; women whose primary health care provider is Planned Parenthood. Women who get clinical breast exams as part of their well-woman visits. Women who need to get a mammogram for one reason or another as follow-up.
What I don't understand is why it's so confounding or surprising that Planned Parenthood health care providers don't provide mammograms in-house. Like the vast majority of primary care physicians and ob-gyns, Planned Parenthood doctors and nurses refer patients to specialized facilities for mammograms based on breast exams, age or family history. Just like my gynecologist did. And I'm sure just like your gynecologist does. The reality is, most patients need a referral in order to get a mammogram.
Mammograms are x-rays of the breasts that can detect a lump up to two years before it can be felt. They are performed by radiology technicians and interpreted by radiologists. The results are then sent to the referring provider -- oftentimes a Planned Parenthood doctor or nurse. When possible, Planned Parenthood health centers connect patients to grants and resources to cover the costs of mammograms for women in need.
If my breast exam and mammogram had turned out suspicious, I would likely have needed a diagnostic follow-up test of some sort -- like an ultrasound, or maybe a biopsy. These sorts of services are most often provided by breast specialists -- not ob-gyns. Not primary care physicians. And not Planned Parenthood doctors and nurses.
The amazing thing is -- as a result of the outpouring of donations in response to the Komen situation, more than half of Planned Parenthood health centers will be able to cover the costs of this specialized care for patients when possible for the next year.
This care can be expensive -- and I know these grants will make a huge difference to women in need.
The breast health care continuum can be confusing. But one thing is crystal clear. The care that Planned Parenthood doctors and nurses provide is essential for millions of women across the country. It's sad that Planned Parenthood opponents are playing politics with women's health, but it's also true that Planned Parenthood doctors and nurses will continue doing what they do best: providing basic and crucial health care for the women (and men) who need it.
For more information on Planned Parenthood's breast health services, go to plannedparenthood.org/breast-
To learn more about the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists guidelines for breast cancer screening, click here.