Photo by Claire Anderson on Unsplash

The extreme abortion restrictions currently in effect in Texas are being challenged in a case that will come before the U.S. Supreme Court next week.

The law, which bans abortions in all circumstances once a heartbeat is detected, is currently in effect in the Lone Star State. Colloquially known as the “heartbeat bill,” the abortion ban was approved by the Texas legislature earlier this fall and went into effect Sept. 1. The extreme restrictions in the law effectively ban all abortions in the state, since an embryo’s cardiac activity can be detected as early as six weeks of pregnancy––before many women even know they are pregnant.

The law was met with immediate outrage as it blatantly infringes on the rights guaranteed in the 1973 landmark Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade case, which ruled abortion access is a Constitutionally protected right. Similar laws and other attempts to restrict abortion access have been passed in many states over the past decade, but the harshest laws as well as heartbeat bills have been typically thrown out by the courts.

In the case of Texas, the situation is different because the law is still standing after the highest court shockingly refused to abortion providers’ request to halt it. The Supreme Court agreed to review two cases related to Texas’ restrictive abortion law, which was approved in Senate Bill 8. The two cases are known as Whole Woman's Health v. Jackson and United States v. Texas. The Department of Justice has asked the Supreme Court to block the law, and the court will review if Justice has that ability.

For roughly two months, women in the state have been impacted by this law, and the longer the law stays in effect, more harm will come to women. There are several reports of “abortion refugees” traveling to states as far as Colorado, Kansas and Arkansas to receive abortion care.

At the same time, the Supreme Court is only about one month away from another case about abortion rights that has activists and pro-choice groups fighting back. That case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, involves a 15-week abortion ban in Mississippi. The case is a direct threat to Roe. Should the case be overturned, roughly half of states have abortion restriction bills that would come into effect.

“In the Jackson Women’s Health Organization case centering on the Mississippi abortion ban, the Court has the opportunity to take a significant step toward doing just that by ending the constitutional right to abortion as we know it,” non-profit NARAL Pro-Choice America said this week. “We may not know until summer 2022 what the Supreme Court has decided in Jackson Women’s Health, but we must not lose sight of what’s at stake—especially with 24 states poised to ban abortion if Roe falls.”

One of the most aggressive and deadliest breast cancers, triple negative breast cancer (TNBC), will meet its match in the form of a current political hot button issue. A vaccine.

TNBC, which accounts for up to 15% of all breast cancers, is one of the most aggressive types of cancers and generally the prognosis is grim. Common symptoms of TNBC include breast swelling, discharge from the breast, dimpling of the skin, swelling or a lump under the arm or on the collarbone, and skin changes in the area.

Black, Hispanic and younger women are more likely to be diagnosed with the disease. TNBC occurs less in white and Asian women. And up to a whopping 80% of breast tumors that occur in women with the BRCA1 genes are TNBC.

The FDA gave Cleveland Clinic researchers the green light to proceed with a phase I clinical trial for their vaccine. The phase I trial will establish how potent the vaccine dose patients with early-stage triple-negative breast cancer can tolerate, according to a statement by the Cleveland Clinic.

“We are hopeful that this research will lead to more advanced trials to determine the effectiveness of the vaccine against this highly aggressive type of breast cancer,” principal investigator G. Thomas Budd, MD, of the Cleveland Clinic said in the same statement.

The three most common types of receptors known to drive breast cancer growths—estrogen, progesterone and HER-2—are not in the triple-negative breast cancer tumor, which limits treatment options. At present, chemotherapy, radiation and/or surgeries such as lumpectomies and mastectomies are first line treatments but they are not enough to stop or outright prevent the cancer.

“This vaccine approach represents a potential new way to control breast cancer,” inventor of the vaccine and principal investigator Vincent Tuohy, PhD, said in a statement. “The long-term objective of this research is to determine if this vaccine can prevent breast cancer before it occurs, particularly the more aggressive forms of this disease that predominate in high-risk women.”

Funded by the U.S. Department of Defense, the clinical trial will include up to 24 patients who previously completed treatment for early-stage TNBC within the past three years. Research participants should not have tumors but are at high risk for recurrence. Trial enrollees will receive three vaccinations, all two weeks apart and researchers will evaluate their side effects and immune response.

The clinical trial will be completed in September 2022.

Updated: Oct 15

To breast cancer screen or not to breast cancer screen? That’s not a question. Get screened now.

Even as COVID-19 continues to show signs of easing across the U.S., women are still skipping important cancer screenings. But experts say it is time to get those appointments back on the books. And the sooner, the better.

So says a recent survey from the Prevent Cancer Foundation that queried women on their physician visits and critical cancer screenings. Almost 25% of women surveyed said it’s been more than 36 months since their last appointment with their OB/GYN or primary care provider.

“That’s three years since many women and those assigned female at birth have had routine cancer screenings,” Jody Hoyos, president and chief operating officer of the Prevent Cancer Foundation told The Whipp. “Early detection saves lives. Missed appointments could mean missed or delayed and later stage diagnoses that may be more difficult to treat.”

Additionally, 28% of all women surveyed did not schedule a breast cancer screening and 26% did not schedule a cervical cancer screening during the pandemic, the survey showed. Of those women who did not schedule routine cancer screenings, 31% said they were worried about COVID-19 exposure.

The Problem Goes Beyond COVID-19

But COVID-19 exposure surely isn’t the only reason women haven’t visited their physicians. Almost 40% of surveyed women noted they were concerned about pain or discomfort during cervical and breast exams. Additionally, most women do not know how often they should be screened for cervical and breast cancer, the survey showed. The information gap is more prevalent among young women and women of color.

“All women should be risk assessed for breast cancer by age 30,” Amy Patel, MD, medical director at The Breast Care Center at Liberty Hospital near Kansas City and assistant professor of radiology at University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine, told The Whipp. “If deemed high risk (20% or greater lifetime risk of breast cancer), annual screening mammography is now recommended at age 30 alternating with supplemental screening such as Breast MRI or Ultrasound every six months.”

If before 30, annual breast MRI is recommended from ages 25-29, Patel added. Annual screening mammography is recommended for average risk women (less than 20% lifetime risk) beginning at age 40 and women should continue to do so as long as they are in good health.

“If you do one thing for yourself today, let it be scheduling your annual appointments and routine cancer screenings—it could save your life,” Hoyos told The Whipp.

The Fight to Get Women Screened

There is a nationwide push to get women back to their doctor’s offices for cancer screenings and health care providers are leaving no stone unturned to do so.

“What we are seeing is a substantial number of patients who skipped their mammogram altogether in 2020,” Patel told The Whipp.

Over the past year or so, Patel said her group has used various means to connect with patients including letters and phone calls. To get women screened, they used print, television and social media channels to launch a #ReadyForYou campaign.

Despite the outreach, Patel said her breast center has run into some hiccups. Many women are still not comfortable walking into a hospital or clinic to get screened for fear of the COVID-19 virus. But she said breast care centers across the country are employing the safest measures possible to ensure a comfortable patient experience.

“If you’re nervous or unsure about an appointment, call your doctor’s office to find out what they are doing to make the experience safer and more comfortable for patients,” Hoyos added.

There is encouraging news though—74% of women said they feel more comfortable going to their physician for care now that vaccines are readily available and 65% of women surveyed said they plan to schedule breast and cervical screenings before the new year.

Both Hoyos and Patel agree that there is no time to waste.

“My advice would be that the earliest cancer detection is your best shot at beating breast cancer,” Patel told The Whipp. “For example, if we can detect a breast cancer at 1 centimeter or smaller, your survival probability approaches 100% opposed to a breast cancer that is advanced at 5 centimeter or greater and your survival probability plummets.”