By Laura Farmer sherman
Susan G. Komen for the Cure San Diego
Breast cancer survivors and advocates from all seven California Affiliates of Susan G. Komen for the Cure signaled their alarm this week at the recently announced cuts to California's Every Woman Counts program, which would effectively shut the doors to breast cancer screening services for 1.2 million low-income and uninsured women for the first six months of 2010.
Citing budgetary concerns, the state also announced that once they begin screening new patients this summer, only women age 50 and above will be eligible — significantly reducing the number of women in the state that will have access to affordable breast cancer screenings.
"We understand our elected leaders face tough economic decisions. But balancing the budget on the backs of our state's neediest women is a mistake. We should not deny women who have very few options and limited resources access to screening and treatment services that may save their life," said Laura Farmer Sherman, Executive Director, Susan G. Komen for the Cure in San Diego County.
Every Women Counts (EWC) is a joint program by the state Department of Public Health and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program. Komen Affiliates noted that while 1.2 million women are eligible for EWC, the program only screens about 270,000 women a year, 77,000 of whom are under age 50.
The news about changes to EWC come on the heels of new mammography screening recommendations recently unveiled by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, which generated significant controversy and confusion for women. Some have interpreted the guidelines as a recommendation against mammography for women age 40 to 49. In fact, the task force actually intended to encourage women to talk with their providers and assess their personal risk factors in deciding whether to have a mammogram.
Early detection of breast cancer is a key to surviving the disease. When breast cancer is detected early, the five-year relative survival rate is 98 percent, but declines to 84 percent for regional disease and 23 percent when cancer has metastasized or spread to other parts of the body. Unfortunately, women with low incomes who are uninsured or underinsured — like those eligible for Every Women Counts — are more likely to skip potentially life-saving cancer screenings, which leads to later diagnoses, larger tumors and lower survival rates. The state's decision to restrict access to the Every Woman Counts program makes the problem even worse.