DOH cancer screening program offers free services to low, moderate-income patients

The program, which has been in place since 1994, has provided cancer screenings for more than 96K Pennsylvanians

By: - March 17, 2022 5:18 pm

When Black patients are treated by Black doctors, they have better health outcomes – but fewer than 6 in 100 American doctors are Black (The Good Brigade/Digital Vision/Getty Images/The Conversation).

A free cancer screening program offered by the Pennsylvania Department of Health aims to bring preventative care measures to low-to-moderate-income patients across the commonwealth.

Known as The Pennsylvania Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program (PA-BCCEDP), the screening program offers free breast and cervical cancer detection services through the Pennsylvania Department of Health and is funded using grant money from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

It provides 3D and digital mammograms, ultrasounds, MRIs, Pap tests, HPV tests and follow-up diagnostic tests for abnormal screening results, according to the Department of Health.

The program, which has been in place since 1994, has provided cancer screenings for more than 96,000 Pennsylvania women and has diagnosed 4,845 cases of breast and cervical cancers.

“During July 1, 2020, to June 30, 2021, a total of 6,781 breast and cervical cancer screenings were provide[d], with 96 breast cancers and 17 cervical cancers detected,” Department of Health Spokesperson Maggi Barton said in an email to the Capital-Star, adding that the program also provided for “3,051 diagnostic services for breast cancer and 682 diagnostic services for cervical cancer.”

Among all races and ethnicities in Pennsylvania in 2018, lung and bronchus cancers caused the most deaths among women at 3,124, according to CDC data. Breast, (1,963); colon and rectal, (1,223); and pancreatic cancer (1,069) accounted for the top five cancers by number of deaths among women in Pennsylvania.

Cancer rates and corresponding survival rates, including those of gynecological cancers, vary greatly by race, genetic factors, and socio-economic status, according to recent research from the Kaiser Family Foundation, which concluded that “even though substantial progress has been made in understanding the factors underlying cancer health disparities, marked inequities persist.”

In 2018, the latest year for which Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data is available, there were 1,960 new cases of cervical cancer and 29,661 new cases of breast cancer among Black women. 

According to CDC data, 770 Black women died in the United States of cervical cancer and 6,541 died of breast cancer in 2018. 

Breast cancer cases in Black women in Pennsylvania were almost double (983 cases) that of the cancer with the second highest cases – lung and bronchus cancer (524) – in 2018, according to the same data. 

Black women are more likely to die from cervical cancer than white women in the commonwealth, despite recording less cases of the disease. 

In 2018, 138 cervical cancer deaths were reported among white women in Pennsylvania. Over the same time, 23 cervical cancer deaths were reported among Black women. 

CDC data shows that the age-adjusted cancer death rate among white women in Pennsylvania was 2 per 100,000 women in 2018, compared to 2.7 per 100,000 for Black women. 

The five-year cervical cancer survival rate for white women in the United States is 67.3 percent, compared with 58.1 percent among Black women. 

Similarly, the five-year breast cancer survival rate for white women in the United States was 91 percent, compared with 82.2 percent among Black women. 

While research has shown that genetic and ethnic makeup can predispose individuals to certain cancers, genetic tests are not part of the PA-BCCEDP screening program.

However, Barton added that “it is covered under Medicaid and partially under Medicare.”

Barton told the Capital-Star that the grant is funded every five years by the CDC with the latest renewal scheduled to begin July 1, 2022. It will run through June 2027.

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Cassie Miller
Cassie Miller

A native Pennsylvanian, Cassie Miller worked for various publications across the Midstate before joining the team at the Pennsylvania Capital-Star. In her previous roles, she has covered everything from local sports to the financial services industry.