When a physician, a movie star and a senator get together, it has the makings of a real television drama.
But Friday the plot and players were real - and the topic, deadly serious.True-to-life episodes of cancer affliction, untreated depression and the trials of home health care evoked strong emotions from the audience that gathered in the Salt Lake County Commission Chambers for a congressional hearing on women's health concerns.
Its sponsor, Sen. Orrin Hatch, is leading Republican member on the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee and since 1981 has probably had more health bills signed into law than any other member of Congress.
He said he will consider information gathered at Friday's hearing for possible future legislation.
"We live in an age of unprecedented medical advances and an increased understanding of disease," Hatch told the gathering. "Society must continue its support of programs to help us live longer, productive and independent lives."
Government and the private sector must join together to provide that support, actress-singer Elizabeth Stack told the Senate panel.
Stack, who has appeared in such television shows as Airwolf and Quincy and is the daughter of actor Robert Stack, said elected officials must "make the tough decisions in this time of fiscal constraints to spend whatever is necessary to see to it that all women are able to get the kind of health care they need."
Physicians and the insurance industry must make regular health care available at an affordable and reasonable price, added Stack, who represented the American Cancer Society and Celebrities Against Cancer.
Stack, whose best woman friend has battled five forms of cancer, also called on women to take responsibility for the quality of their health.
This includes exercising, eating a balanced diet, getting regular examinations by a physician, not smoking, reducing or eliminating the use of alcohol and avoiding excessive exposure to the sun.
Dr. Charles R. Smart, chief of the Early Detection Branch of the National Cancer Institute in Washington, D.C., agreed. He testified that in Utah skin cancer accounts for more cases of cancer than all other forms combined. Incidence of melanoma is increasing rapidly.
Smart, a native Utahn who advocates prevention and early detection, said people should have their skin examined regularly. Because breast cancer continues to be a major concern for American women, he said women should also have regular mammograms, which have become more accurate and less hazardous and expensive.
A catastrophic health care bill approved by the House this week provides for reimbursement of mammogram fees above $35.
Smart said that compares to $100 to $200 during the 1960s and 1970s. Further, he said improved technology has reduced the amount of radiation from a somewhat risky seven to eight rads of exposure during screening to .03 rad.
"We could virtually do away with all breast cancers if (omen) would follow the full recommendations, including regular self-examination and examination by physicians," Smart said.
While breast cancer remains a chief concern for most women, lung cancer has become the leading cause of cancer death among women, accounting for 20 percent of all cancer deaths, Stack said.
"The best way to prevent lung cancer is to never smoke," she said. "Smoking rates, while generally declining, are increasing among teenage females."
Depression also is on the rise.
"Some six million women are experiencing a clinical depressive disorder that requires treatment," said Dr. Lewis L. Judd, director of the National Institute of Mental Health. "Effective treatments exist for the vast majority of these patients."
However, Judd said about two-thirds of all people who experience a depressive disorder receive no treatment from any source.
"The disease goes unrecognized and untreated until it runs its course - often at great cost to patients' families, their general health, their marriages and jobs, and even their lives," he said. "One in seven persons with a diagnosed depression eventually will die by suicide, a waste that is all the more tragic because it is preventable."