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Home Screening and Treatment Testing and Treatment Majority of Eligible Women Don’t Use Free Breast and Cervical Cancer Screening Programs

Majority of Eligible Women Don’t Use Free Breast and Cervical Cancer Screening Programs

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A new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) finds low participation among women who are eligible for a federal program that offers free cervical cancer screening exams.

The National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program (NBCCEDP) provides free services to low-income, uninsured, and underinsured women in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. An overview on the program’s website says NBCCEDP has provided more than 9 million breast and cervical cancer exams since being formed in 1990. In addition to income and insurance requirements, women must be between the ages of 18-64 to be eligible for cervical cancer exams (breast cancer screening is offered for those ages 40-64). Only a fraction of women who qualify for services take advantage of the program, however.

Using census information to determine the number of eligible women, Florence  K. L. Tangka, PhD , a researcher with CDC’s Division of Cancer Prevention and Control, and colleagues looked at NBCCEDP data between 2004-2006 and found only about 9% of the nearly 9 million women eligible for NBCCEDP services received a Pap test though the program. Screening rates were higher among women ages 40-64 (22.6% compared to 2.3% for those ages 18-39) and non-Hispanic women (9.3% versus 7.3% for Hispanic women).

Pap tests (which can done alone or in combination with an HPV test in women 30 and older) are one of modern medicine’s great success stories, having dramatically slashed cervical cancer rates since the 1950’s in countries with wide screening programs. Detected early, cervical pre-cancers and cancers are usually curable. The American Cancer Society estimates that about half of women diagnosed in the U.S. with invasive cervical cancer have gone five or more years without a Pap test. Cervical cancer is disproportionately diagnosed in impoverished women who often lack access to medical care (hence the focus NBCCEDP places on reaching underserved and minority women).

F Tangka, B O'Hara, J Gardner, J Turner, J Royalty, K Shaw, S Sabatino, I Hall, R Coates. Meeting the cervical cancer screening needs of underserved women: the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program, 2004-2006. Cancer Causes Control. 2010. 21(7):1081-90.