Long Island campaign pushes for earlier breast cancer screenings

"Got Checked?" campaign co-founders Linda Bonanno and Donna Cioffi stand in the lobby of Zwanger-Pesiri Radiology in Huntington, NY.

By Duffy Zimmerman and Jacob Alvear

Two weeks before her July 2018 wedding, Therese Curry found a lump in her breast.

Although the 31-year old Oceanside resident did not have a family history of breast cancer, she decided to talk to a doctor. Without performing a mammogram, a procedure that uses x-rays to produce images of internal breast tissues, the doctor told Curry the lump was benign. Curry decided to get a second opinion, and a mammogram confirmed her worst fear: she had breast cancer.

“If I never found the lump on my own and persisted to get the tests, the cancer would have never been found early,” Curry said. “If I had to wait nine years for a mammogram, it would have been very late stage and probably not a good outcome.”

Curry is among the seven percent of breast cancer patients who were diagnosed before 40, which is currently the recommended age to begin regular screenings.Young women on Long Island face an especially high level of risk, since the incidence of breast cancer in this region is about 15 percent higher than the national average, according to the National Cancer Institute.  Members of the Long Island-based First Company Pink are pushing for new legislation that would change this age as part of their “Got Checked?” campaign.

The proposed legislation, called Shannon’s Law, was inspired by Babylon resident Shannon Saturno, who died from breast cancer in 2016 at 31 years old. Shannon’s Law would require insurance providers to cover annual mammograms beginning at 35, five years earlier than current regulations.

Because young women do not receive mammograms, they are more likely to be diagnosed in later stages when the cancer has become more aggressive, according to the Young Survival Coalition. This often means that the cancer can become metastatic, allowing the condition to spread throughout the body or return after treatment, which increases the mortality rate in this demographic.

“Women are terrorized, because they get married, everything is fantastic, and all of a sudden they are shaken up by this illness,” Linda Bonanno, breast cancer survivor and co-founder of the campaign, said.

The increased rate of incidence on Long Island increases the necessity for updated laws, according to Laurie Cohen, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1995. Cohen’s  biological daughter has been allowed a mammogram every other year since turning 20 because of her family history. Cohen’s adopted daughter, however, would not have this procedure covered by insurance without Shannon’s Law.

“That does not sit well with me, as I am a true believer that living on Long Island is a contributing factor, “ Cohen said. “Knowing she would be prevented from being screened early than 40 is just wrong!  I hear more and more young women being diagnosed with breast cancer and it is truly frightening.”

While the founders of the “Got Checked?” campaign acknowledge that Shannon’s Law only addresses a few extra years, they hope that this will be a necessary step in the right direction.

“We consulted with several breast surgeons and oncologists who are very, very angry at this point that it hasn’t been done so far,” Donna Cioffi, another co-founder and breast cancer survivor, said.

In 2017 and 2018, Shannon’s Law was passed in the state assembly, but not in the senate. Bonanno is hopeful that her March 26th meeting with senate leaders will help push the proposal into law, but she says that there is more work to be done in building a better system for breast health.

“Shannon’s Law is just part of it,” Bonanno said. “I don’t want people to think comfortably that we did one little step and it’s over. This is a process.”

About Duffy Zimmerman 5 Articles
Duffy Zimmerman is a third-year student at Stony Brook University, where he is pursuing a bachelor of arts in journalism. He is a native of Lockport, New York, where he graduated from Starpoint High School in 2016. Zimmerman is also a student journalist for WUSB Stony Brook News Hour, and has served as a reporter for the Computer Science Department in the Stony Brook College of Engineering and Applied Sciences. His primary interests include science and politics. In his spare time, Duffy enjoys singing, reading comic books and watching movies.