Louisiana has the highest death rate in the country for both breast and cervical cancer, and even our football team, The New Orleans Saints, wear pink ribbons to raise awareness. Yet a federal program with matching state funds that provides services to less fortunate, uninsured women who rarely receive cancer screenings, is in danger of being cut by the state in the continuing wave of healthcare cutbacks.
The Louisiana Breast and Cervical Health Program (LBCHP) was introduced in 2002 to provide early detection of breast and cervical cancers for low-income, uninsured and underserved women through no-cost cancer screening programs including exams, mammograms and Pap tests.
It is funded through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) matching three to one federal funds to state funds, along with other contributing private foundations such as Komen for the Cure and The United Way. In 2007 the state contribution was increased from $350,000 to $700,000 bringing all funding to approximately $2.4 million.
Nationally, breast cancer is the most prevalent cancer in women, and the number two killer of women behind heart disease.
And in Louisiana, the percentage of women who die from breast cancer is the highest of all states, excluding the District of Columbia, with our state’s African-American women 7.8 percent more likely to be diagnosed with advanced disease, and their mortality rate from breast cancer 12.2 percent higher than the national rate.
Worse, is cervical cancer, which is easy to detect thru an annual Pap test, but in Louisiana we have the highest number of deaths of any state for all women combined, but, once again, if broken down by race, African-American women lead the stats, with white women ranking seventh.
Andrew Muhl, government relations director with the American Cancer Society in Louisiana, works on behalf of all the people of Louisiana to influence political policies that would reduce cancer in the state.
“It’s not that we necessarily have the most cancer here, we are 41st in incidence of breast cancer in the country, but late stage diagnosis makes it difficult to treat successfully, so we rank at the top in number of deaths, said Muhl.
“These patients have disease that is usually only caught in the latter stages because they haven’t gone anywhere for care early enough for a variety of reasons, and thus ultimately become a worst burden to the state in medical costs, and they pay the personal price. But with health cuts in general that are going on now in Louisiana, we are probably looking at a minimum 5 percent reduction and probably more,” Mulhl added.
Nannozi Ssenkoloto, MPA, MPH, who is the LBCHP manager, noted that the program is also part of the CDC’s National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program.
Participants are screened through 13 providers and community clinics in locations statewide including University Medical Center and Louisiana Oncology Associates in Lafayette, and Women’s Hospital in Baton Rouge among others.
Averaging 13,000 visits over the last three years, last year they saw a total of 13,435 women. “And we are seeing only ten percent of those women that could be eligible,” said Ssenkoloto.
She explained that eligibility consists of women age 40-64 for mammograms; low income, at 250 percent of the federal poverty guidelines; with little or no insurance or inadequate insurance such as very high deductibles and/or copays, and not on Medicare or Medicaid; and the underserved, those with barriers that block their access to care such as lack of education, insufficient childcare, or not being able to drive or find transportation.
“We are looking at possible cuts anywhere from five percent to the entire state funding of $700,000, which would affect what the CDC gives us in matching funds. We have the highest mortality rate from breast cancer in Louisiana; one reason because it is caught so late, and the highest mortality from cervical cancer, which is easily preventable with pap tests.
“We have seen 47,400 women since 2003, and done 74,398 mammograms and diagnosed 692 breast cancers, and perform an average of 3,000 plus Pap tests a year. It would be cheaper for the state to catch this earlier than later, much cheaper, since most patients who need treatment then for breast or cervical cancers are fast-tracked into the Medicaid program,” Ssenkoloto added.
It is hoped that giving the program enough time to continue and reach a wider number of participants, might bring those high stats down.
The LBCHP administration is now housed at the LSUHSC School of Public Health in New Orleans, along with several other programs under the umbrella of the Louisiana Comprehensive Cancer Control Program.