Socio-economic status plays a profound effect on cancer diagnosis and survival rates. For example, breast cancer patients of low socio-economic status have significantly reduced survival rates compared to women from more privileged backgrounds. This increased mortality is partially caused by reduced screenings and delayed cancer diagnoses.
Since 1990, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) has instituted a series of programs to help reduce cancer disparities for breast, cervical, and colorectal cancers. Colorectal cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the US, with similar mortality rates between men and women. Through the Colorectal Cancer Control Program, more than 25 states currently provide free screenings and follow-up care to uninsured or underinsured people in an effort to increase colon cancer screening rates to 80% for people over age 50.
Another CDC initiative, the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program provides free breast exams, mammograms, pap tests, and pelvic exams to qualified women in all 50 states. The program additionally covers diagnostic testing for abnormal exams. While the federal government funds the colorectal, breast, and cervical cancer programs, they are implemented at the state level so men and women can receive service tailored for their region.
What happens is a person is diagnosed with one of these cancers? Both CDC programs can refer patients to free or low-cost treatment programs. A representative at the Illinois Breast and Cervical Cancer Program recently stressed the speed at which these referrals are made, since time is incredibly important after a cancer diagnosis. People who were diagnosed outside of these programs but may not be able to afford treatment can also use the services for referrals to low-cost treatment opportunities.
Cancer screening programs resulted from research showing that economic status plays a large role in cancer diagnosis and survival. Similarly, the Oncofertility Consortium is assessing the economic factors in fertility preservation decision making in order to reduce barriers to treatment. While free screenings for colorectal, breast, and cervical cancer are now available, many people may not be aware of these programs. Get the word out and play your own part in reducing cancer disparities!