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Free tests a lifesaver for some women
For some women, free breast and cervical exams can make difference between life and death


Date published: 10/18/2009

BY BRYNN BOYER

Cheryle Calhoun of Fredericksburg was diagnosed with breast cancer in the spring of 2000. Five months later, she said, she found out she no longer had a job.

Calhoun's employer-provided insurance had covered her radiation treatment. Without the job, she said, she had neither the insurance nor the income to afford follow-up screenings.

Calhoun, 52, went to the one place she thought she could get some help--the Fredericksburg Health Department.

The department offers free breast cancer and cervical cancer screenings as part of the Virginia Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program, known as Every Woman's Life.

Calhoun, who is now cancer-free and employed, got her screenings through Every Woman's Life for three years.

"I felt very safe, very cared for," Calhoun said.

Every Woman's Life receives money from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to cover the cost of screenings for women who ordinarily would not be able to pay.

Since October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the health department is encouraging women to come in for testing.

"The whole message of the program is getting women to realize the importance of taking care of themselves," said Tomiko Gowins, a community outreach worker for the health department. "We are trying to get them to be proactive."

Women are eligible for the program if they meet the following criteria:

are 50 to 64 years old

do not have insurance

meet federal income guidelines.

Younger women who meet these guidelines also are eligible if they are having symptoms of breast or cervical cancer.

Through the program, the health department provides mammograms and Pap tests free of charge. The tests are critical to detecting breast and cervical cancers as early as possible.

Calhoun said doctors caught her cancer after she went in for her yearly mammogram.

"It's so important because the earlier you catch it, the better," Calhoun said. "I can't stress it enough."

According to the American Cancer Society, "numerous studies have shown that early detection saves lives and increases treatment options. On average, mammography will detect about 80 percent to 90 percent of breast cancers in women without symptoms."

The National Cancer Institute recommends women over 40 get a yearly mammogram and perform monthly self-exams.


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Fredericksburg-area women interested in getting a free mammogram and Pap test through the Every Woman's Life program can call the Fredericksburg Health Department at 540/899-4142 to see if they are eligible and to make an appointment. Screenings are held Monday mornings.

Breast cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer-related death among women, after lung cancer.

Breast cancer death rates are higher among black women than white women.

About 40,000 women are expected to die from breast cancer this year.

Men account for about 1 percent of breast cancer cases.

The death rate for women from breast cancer has declined since 1990.

-American Cancer Society