Free cancer screenings available to some women

Published 10:10 pm Monday, May 24, 2010

The Alabama Breast and Cervical Early Detection program, a statewide program offered through the Alabama Department of Public Health, is providing free breast and cervical cancer screenings for women who are unable to pay for a mammogram or a pap smear.

“It is becoming common knowledge that early cancer screening, early detection, saves lives,” said Nancy Wright, director of the Cancer Prevention and Control Division. “This is especially true for breast and cervical cancer.”

Discovering breast cancer early will increase one’s chance of survival. The earlier the stage it is detected, the more successfully it can be treated, Wright said.

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“When breast cancer is diagnosed early, the survival rate is over 95 percent,” she said. “But this figure declines dramatically when cancer is found in later stages. Early cancer screening may seem impossible to women without insurance–but it’s not.”

To qualify for the free services through the Alabama Breast and Cervical Early Detection program women must be between the ages of 40 and 64, have a family income at or below 200 percent of federal poverty guidelines and have no insurance or be underinsured.

“A single woman may have an income of up to $21,660 a year and be eligible, while a woman with a family of four may have an annual income of up to $44,100 to qualify,” said Jackie Wilson, Alabama Department of Public Health screening coordinator. “Underinsured means a woman is unable to pay a high deductible or her health insurance does not include screenings. If follow-up is needed, the program will pay for diagnostic testing such as an ultrasound, biopsy or colposcopy. If a woman is diagnosed with cancer, the program will refer her to Medicaid for treatment of breast or cervical cancer.”

Wilson said the free breast and cervical cancer screening program for women is a year around program that was initiated in 1997.

“But still there are many women who don’t know about the Alabama Breast and Cervical Early Detection program,” she said.

“We are trying to get the word out so that these women can take advantage of this potentially life-saving program.”

Eligible women may make an appointment for the free screenings at the local health department or may call 1-877-252-3324 toll free for the names of local private providers who offer the free screenings or for other information.

The Alabama Breast and Cervical Early Detection program was created to help low income, uninsured and underinsured women receive free breast and cervical cancer screening so these cancers can be detected early.

Free services include a pelvic examination, pap smear, clinical breast examination, mammogram and diagnostic services.

The program has provided screenings for nearly 70,000 women. Of these, 1,200 women were diagnosed with breast cancer and 320 with cervical cancer. In addition, any woman under 64 who has been recently diagnosed with breast or cervical cancer may be eligible for treatment through Medicaid.