"We are definitely seeing a trend toward increased diagnosis of early stage breast cancer and decreased diagnosis of advanced stage breast cancer," said Joshua Meyerson, Medical Director for the Health Department of Northwest Michigan. "The reason for the trend is simple: mammograms."
An annual screening mammogram is recommended for women age 40 and older by the American Cancer Society and Meyerson says it is important in identifying cancer at an earlier, and more treatable, stage.
"In fact, we're seeing a decrease in mortality from breast cancer that may be a result of earlier detection as well as improved treatment," Meyerson said.
The Health Department has been working hard to encourage low-income, uninsured/underinsured women to come to their clinics for annual screening mammograms. Over 800 women age 40-64 were enrolled in the Breast & Cervical Cancer Control Program (BCCCP) in 2010 from Antrim, Charlevoix, Emmet, and Otsego counties. 28% were referred for further diagnostic services and 16 were treated for breast cancer.
"We want every woman to get the primary care she needs--including annual mammogram--no matter her income or insurance status," said Pat Fralick, Director of Family & Community Health for the Health Department. "That's why there are generous income eligibility guidelines for the BCCCP. For example, an uninsured woman from a family of four can have a household income of almost $56,000 and be eligible for the program. Women, who have health insurance but no mammogram coverage in this income bracket, are also eligible."
Fralick said there are several local charities and foundations who help the Health Department reach low income women by providing funds for outreach and education. "We are especially grateful to the Antrim County High Tea for Breast Cancer Prevention," she said. "With their help, we've increased the number of women enrolled in BCCCP ten-fold over the last few years." She said the program has had generous financial support from the Sue DeYoung/Judy Edger Breast Cancer Walk & Run, Charlevoix County Community Foundation, and Women of Harley 45th Parallel Chapter for outreach and to reduce barriers to care.
"I think we can look at our local data and conclude that getting more low-income, uninsured/underinsured women screened with mammograms appears to be helping reduce the number of advanced stage cancers and ultimately, reducing the number of breast cancer deaths," Meyerson said. "I am hopeful that this trend continues and perhaps we can see some truly significant decreases in mortality as we continue to promote early detection and better treatment for breast cancer."
The Health Department of Northwest Michigan is mandated by the Michigan Public Health Code to promote wellness, prevent disease, provide quality healthcare, address health problems of vulnerable populations, and protect the environment for the residents and visitors of Antrim, Charlevoix, Emmet, and Otsego counties. For more information about BCCCP, or to check eligibility and schedule an appointment, call the Health Department at 800-432-4121 during regular business hours.