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Fighting Breast Cancer Without Insurance

One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer at some point in their life – many of them will survive with the help of early diagnosis and treatment. This year, it’s estimated that 268,600 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in women. After a diagnosis, health insurance coverage is integral to ensuring women have access to the full array of treatment options. Indeed, researchers found lack of health insurance is an important factor for why African American women are more likely to die from breast cancer than white women. Differences in health insurance accounted for about 35 percent of the excess risk of death in African American women, according to a 2017 study from the American Cancer Society, Emory University, and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

The researchers noted that in the 1980s there was almost no distinction in the death rate between African American women and white women from breast cancer. Nothing has changed in the biology since then, except that the advancements in medicine to treat the disease have rapidly evolved with treatment options that are more readily available to people with an insurance card. Even more concerning is the recent data from the U.S. Census showing that the number of people without insurance is increasing for the first time in almost 10 years. The uninsured rate rose from 7.9 percent in 2017 to 8.5 percent last year, amounting to nearly 2 million people. It is likely that among these uninsured are women living with breast cancer or about to be diagnosed.

Regardless of insurance status, there should be affordable options for early diagnosis and screening for breast cancer. Community Health Centers provided 942,878 mammograms last year to women. In fact, health center patients who are low-income and uninsured are overall more likely to have a mammogram than their counterparts who are not health center patients. Some health centers can also help breast cancer patients access resources and navigate the health care system for treatment. In a recent column, U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela (TX) highlighted the work of Su Clinica, a health center in Brownsville, TX, for doing just that.

“The ability to access those services matters immensely to each of those individuals, such as Lydia, a retired 61-year old woman with minimal monthly income and a family history of breast cancer,” he writes. “She was seen at Su Clinica for her annual mammogram, and unfortunately the test revealed that she had cancer. Lydia was immediately concerned she would not be able to afford treatment, but Su Clinica guided her through the process. With their assistance, she was approved for the Medicaid Breast and Cervical Cancer program, received treatment, and is now thankfully in remission. The impact that these organizations have on the lives of our neighbors and in the health of our community cannot be overstated.”

Over the last decade, the rate of getting breast cancer has not changed for women overall, but the rate has increased for African American women and Asian and Pacific Islander women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. African American women have a higher rate of death from breast cancer than white women. The earlier cancer is detected the easier it is to treat. Below are some related links to help consumers locate breast cancer screenings.

Find a Community Health Center near you.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a list of ways to find a low-cost breast screening.

Coping with cancer when you are uninsured

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