Assisting uninsured women in receiving early diagnosis of, treatment for breast, cervical cancer

Dr. Robert Burack

By Robert Burack, M.D., MPH, physician manager of the Breast and Cervical Cancer Control Program and professor of Internal Medicine at Karmanos Cancer Center and Wayne State University School of Medicine.

The Breast and Cervical Cancer Control Program (BCCCP) is the No. 1 safety net for uninsured women in Michigan. Karmanos Cancer Institute is the local contracting agency in Wayne County for BCCCP, which is one of 21 state-wide programs operated by the Michigan Department of Community Health.

Through this program, low-income women, ages 40-64, have access to life-saving cancer screening services, and women who have breast and cervical cancer are identified at earlier stages of these diseases, when the survival rate is far more favorable and treatment is less expensive.

Early detection is an extremely effective tool in fighting breast cancer. When breast cancer is found and diagnosed while still confined to the breast, the 5-year relative survival rate soars to 98 percent. What’s more, timely mammograms could prevent 15 to 30 percent of all deaths from breast cancer in woman over age 40. And, as much as $20,000 is saved in initial treatment cost for each breast cancer case that is detected early.

Sadly, low-income women have lower screening rates; are 41 percent more likely to be diagnosed with late-stage breast cancer; and are three times more likely to die from breast cancer. Uninsured women are more likely to receive a late-stage breast cancer diagnosis and are 20 to 50 percent more likely to die from the disease than women with insurance. And because of gaps in our health care system, a breast cancer diagnosis is much deadlier for racial and ethnic minorities, the poor, and those with little or no health insurance. We must close the gaps that exist between need and access, fear and understanding, and breast cancer and its cures.

Since 1992, when the BCCCP program was established in Wayne County, it has grown substantially from an initial enrollment of 358 to more than 8,000 women in 2011. Over this time nearly 900 women have been diagnosed and treated for breast cancer and 300 for cervical cancer.  Most importantly, in the absence of the earlier detection provided by their participation in the BCCCP, most if not all of these women would have remained undiagnosed until their disease had progressed beyond the stage at which it remained curable.

The Wayne County Breast and Cervical Cancer Control Program (BCCCP) today has an opportunity to reach a new milestone – providing potentially life-saving cancer screenings for 10,000 women in a single year. 

The work of the BCCCP would not be possible without the support it receives from MDCH and its community partners. Recognizing the still-unmet need in Wayne County, MDCH recently increased its funding of the Wayne County BCCCP to allow the enrollment of an additional 1,200 women.  This will bring this year’s enrollment total to over 10,000. 

The program’s work also would not be possible without the additional support it receives from its community partners including the Komen Detroit Race for the Cure, the Links organization, and other groups.  This additional support has been critical in expanding the program’s enrollment (by at least 20 percent) and assuring timely diagnosis and treatment for all who need it. 

With the Wayne County BCCCP’s mission in eliminating the preventable burden of breast and cervical cancer in our community, reaching 10,000 women this year is a critical step towards accomplishing that goal.

To reach the BCCCP at Karmanos Cancer Institute, please call 1-800-KARMANOS (1-800-527-6266), e-mail info@karmanos.org or visit www.karmanos.org.

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