Health Watch/Western U.P. Health Department/JoAnn Stark

It looks like spring is going to arrive late this year, but one thing a woman should never be late for is her regular breast and cervical cancer screening.

In an average year, 60 to 70 Western Upper Peninsula women will be diagnosed with breast cancer and about 15 women will die from the disease. Because early detection of breast cancer saves lives, Western U.P. Health Department promotes annual breast exams and connects low-to-moderate income women to free cancer screening and treatments though its Breast and Cervical Cancer Control Program (BCCCP).

Early detection and treatment is an important reason why death rates from breast cancer have declined in recent years. BCCCP helps save lives, because it can pay for screening, diagnosis and even cancer treatment and medications until the patient is cancer-free for five years.

BCCCP provides breast and cervical cancer screening and follow-up to ensure that cost is not a barrier to women accessing annual screening and diagnostic or treatment services. To qualify for BCCCP, a woman must be age 40-64, a Michigan resident, income eligible and uninsured or underinsured.

The income guidelines are high enough that a majority of the region’s women are eligible, so it’s worth a confidential phone call to any of our offices to get more information. For instance, a woman in a family of four may be eligible with a household income up to $58,875.

BCCCP services in the Western U.P. are provided by more than 50 health care providers, including all local hospitals. This means that after we enroll you in the program, you visit the doctor of your choice for services. The health department does not provide direct services; instead, we enroll eligible women and reimburse the health care providers.

Annual mammography screening is the single most effective method of early detection.

A clinical examination by a health care professional should be done yearly as well. Women can take charge of their breast health by performing a breast self-exam every month, understanding their personal risks for the disease, and reporting any breast change promptly to their health care provider.

In the United States, more than 210,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed this year. Fortunately, significant progress in mammography technology is helping physicians diagnose the disease earlier. And the sooner breast cancer is detected, the less likely a woman will need highly invasive and uncomfortable treatments, and the more likely she will survive the disease. As a result, breast cancer survivors make up the largest group of cancer survivors.

Special populations at risk for breast cancer include minority and older women. Breast cancer affects women from all ethnicities. Family history is perhaps the best predictor of breast cancer, but the disease can strike any woman at any age.

So, ladies, you owe it to yourself and your family to get the recommended cancer screening. It just might save your life.

For more information or to enroll in the program, call your local health department: Houghton/Keweenaw counties at 482-7382, Gogebic County at 667-0200, Baraga County at 524-6142, Ontonagon County at 884-4485, Keweenaw Bay tribal health services at 353-4530 and Lac Vieux Desert at 358-4588.

Editor’s Note: JoAnn Stark is the coordinator of the Breast and Cervical Cancer Control Program at Western U.P. Health Department.