OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Female employees of the state Health Department will be allowed an hour off work each year to be tested for breast cancer, the acting head of the agency said Tuesday.
Jerry Regier made the announcement in response to first lady Cathy Keating's challenge to Oklahoma businesses to help its female workers learn more about ways to detect breast cancer.
Regier -- who also serves as secretary of Health and Human Services -- encouraged fellow cabinet secretaries to do the same.
Breast cancer is blamed for the deaths of about 44,000 women each year in the United States -- second only to lung cancer in terms of cancer deaths.
Nationally, no other type of cancer causes more deaths among women ages 40 to 59.
Keating's efforts to encourage mammograms coincide with national breast cancer awareness month, and are directed at the 66,000 women over 40 in Oklahoma County who have never had a mammogram.
"That's more than all the women who will die from breast cancer this year in the U.S.," Regier said.
Regier said his wife underwent a mammogram last week.
Health experts recommend an annual mammogram for women over 40 and encourage women to perform monthly self-examinations.
About 500 Oklahoma women will die from breast cancer this year.
Statistics from the state's Chronic Disease Service show that a 15 percent rise in mammograms would reduce those deaths by 30 percent.
Keating said all Oklahomans need to be aware that early detection is the key to breast cancer survival.
"If we continue to spread this message through communities and corporate Oklahoma, we can save lives," Keating said.