Cancer Screening for Poor Women Threatened in Calif. Budget Battle

Desperate to balance the budget, California is finding fat to trim in some interesting places... like the local mammogram center.

By Michelle Chen Sep 02, 2010

Desperate to balance the budget, the state of California is finding fat to trim in some interesting places. The local mammogram center turns out to be one convenient spot for fiscal "savings." The thousands of women served annually by the Every Woman Counts program, which provides free cervical and breast cancer screenings, will just have to wait as politicians lock horns in Sacramento. Last year, Gov. Schwarzenegger cut back the program, which led to a freeze on enrollment. KPBS reports that there is currently legislation on the table to restore those cuts, but the program remains in limbo, waiting for the Governor budge on the proposal. (h/t RH Reality Check) According to the program’s website, until funding issues are resolved, the block on new enrollments for breast cancer screenings will continue, as will the newly tightened age restrictions. The cuts to cancer detection for poor women, many of them uninsured, are all the more troubling when you look at the demographics of the program’s target population. According to DOTmed, "From 2003 to 2008, Hispanic women made up 68.7 percent of women receiving the program’s services, 15 percent were Asian-Pacific-Islander, 9 percent were white and 2.5 percent were black," and more than one million women are eligible statewide. Federal health authorities have acknowledged the racial dimension of cancer and cancer lethality:


  • Although breast cancer is diagnosed 10% less frequently in African American women than White women, African American women are 34% more likely to die from the disease.
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  • American Indian Women are 1.7 times as likely to die from cervical cancer as compared to white women.
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  • Hispanic women are twice as likely as non-Hispanic white women to be diagnosed with cervical cancer.

So as the budget standoff drags on, Gov. Schwarzenegger continues to tighten the state’s finances at the expense of women of color for whom early cancer detection could mean the difference between life and death. Offering services in Spanish, Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean, and Vietnamese, programs like Every Woman Counts have established a critical link between underserved communities and mainstream cancer care. But when it comes time to make "tough choices" on the budget, we’re reminded again that some women just don’t count as much as others.