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Free Cancer Screening Cuts Force Paradigm Shift

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Moreno Valley program which provides free mammograms to underserved women in dire need of public support

When the state of California Department of Public Health announced in December it was cutting funding to the Every Woman Counts (EWC) program which provides free breast cancer screenings to low income and uninsured California women, Eudora Mitchell’s first reaction was “We’re up a creek.” Her second reaction was “We’ve still got a paddle – get busy”.

“The decision to cut funding will have detrimental consequences. It boils down to a question of the haves and have nots,” says Mitchell, executive director of Quinn Community Outreach Corporation (QCOC).

This freeze will continue at least through July 1, 2010. When services are reinstated, screenings will only be available to women 50 and older. Experts say that leaves scores of poor women vulnerable to breast cancer.

During 2009, the Southern California Witness and Esperanza y Vida Projects administered by QCOC provided free early breast cancer screenings to 585 women in the Inland Empire.

Mitchell says in 2009 she documented a 3-fold increase in the number of women seeking free exams because of the rising number of jobless families.

“We had another 181 women registered but were not served. These women are all without insurance and are now unable to receive service.”

Last week QCOC launched an ‘Every Dollar Counts Campaign’ with the hope of raising public funds to fill the gap.

“We are asking people to give a dollar or more to help us raise the necessary funds to pay for the clinical breast exams for these and other women who depend on our service for this most vital screening.”

Donations are all tax deductible and can be mailed to Quinn Community Outreach Corporation or you may go online to the organization’s website at www.qcoc.net to make your donation.

Mitchell says QCOC is working with two mammogram imaging groups to provide clinical breast exams for $25.00. Women who cannot pay will continue to receive the service at no cost to them.

“Our medical screening providers and program sponsors (including Susan G. Komen for the Cure and Avon) know the importance of early screening. They’ve seen the results of this devastating disease first hand so they have taken steps to help us survive in the face of these cuts,” said Mitchell.

Each year, more than 25,000 California women develop breast cancer and more than 4,000 die from it. Breast cancer is the most common invasive cancer and is the second-leading cause of deaths among women. African-American and Latina women have the highest deaths among all ethnic groups.

California has a long standing history of being an advocate of early detection as the benefits are not negligible. Detecting cancer at i ts early stages increases a woman’s 5-year rate of survival by 95 percent said Mitchell.

Top officials of the Dallas-based Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the world’s largest network of breast cancer patients, expressed outraged over the cuts. Executive director Katie Parker says the cuts have a minor impact on the budget deficit – less than 0.5% of the state deficit but will have grave consequences for California women.

Parker said additional cuts are proposed for fiscal 2011 and will leave many of California’s most vulnerable women with no options.

Women’s health advocates, health care professionals, breast cancer survivors and consumer gathered in Sacramento Monday to protest the cuts. About 300,000 women statewide were served under the program in 2009.

The Assembly Budget Committee is investigating why revenues are falling on Proposition 99 tobacco tax revenues, which funds the program, said Assembly member Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, committee chairwoman.

Of particular concern is whether there will be funding to resume the mammography screening on July 1, she said.

“Too much of the state’s cuts have been on the backs of women and children, particularly African- Americans and Latinas,” she said.

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