More breast cancer screening urged
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OCTOBER 13, 2000

Coinciding with Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Donna E. Shalala, Secretary of Health and Human Services, on Thursday released the first breast cancer detection rates by race and ethnicity and emphasized the importance of screening for all women.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 4.9 cancers per 1,000 were detected among Native American women who participated in the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program (NBCCEDP). Some 7.7 cancers per 1,000 were detected among white women, 6.4 per 1,000 among African-American women, 6.2 per 1,000 among Asian women, and 4.9 per 1,000 among Hispanic women.

Although the rate for Native women was the lowest among all races, the CDC reported that American Indian and Alaska Native women were more likely to have abnormal results and cancers because many reported never receiving a mammogram before participating in the program.

"These data remind us that women of every race and ethnic group need access to the potentially life-saving benefits of regular mammography screening," said CDC director Jeffrey Koplan.

Established in 1990, the national program provides free cancer screening to low-income and minority women. Since then, the program has provided more than 2.5 million screening tests, almost 1.2 million mammograms, and more than 1.3 million Pap tests. Almost 8,000 breast and cervical cancers have been detected.

The program has also grown to include all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and 12 tribes and Native American health organizations, including the Hopi Tribe of Arizona and the Navajo Nation. About seven percent of participants in the program from 1991 to 1999 have been Native American women.

But health advocates say women who have been diagnosed with the free program are left in the dark once tested. A new bill sponsored by Representative Sue Myrick (R-N.Carolina) hopes to change that by helping low-income, uninsured women receive treatment.

"Up until now, the government has asked uninsured women to come in for screening, but has said 'Sorry, we can't help you' if they test positive for breast or cervical cancer," Myrick said. "That's just not right. If we're going to provide free mammograms and pap smears, it's common sense that we follow up with treatment."

Myrick just completed treatment for breast cancer in May. But she says she was lucky because she had health insurance.

The bill already passed in the Senate and cleared the House on Thursday. President Bill Clinton is expected to sign it.

Get the Bill:
To provide medical assistance for certain women screened and found to have breast or cervical cancer under a federally funded screening program... (H.R.4386)

Relevant Links:
The National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program -
Ten Years of Progress, The NBCCEDP -