I’m one of the roughly 58,000 cancer survivors alive in Idaho today, thanks partly to an early cancer screening. Two generations of women in my family had breast cancer, so I was considered “high risk” and had my first mammogram at the age of 35, which was when I received my breast cancer diagnosis. I’m grateful that this screening detected my cancer early, when my five-year survival rate was 99 percent. Many of my fellow Gem State residents are not so lucky.
Idaho’s cancer screening rates are dismal, with the state ranking 51st for cervical cancer screenings and 50th for breast cancer screenings. More than one-third of Idaho’s women older than 40 have not had a mammogram in the past three years. Breast and cervical cancers are two of the most preventable and treatable if caught early, so it’s vital that Idaho women have access to these screenings and are educated about their importance.
Idaho’s Legislature has the opportunity to make a big impact in the fight against cancer in our state. Each year, it sets aside funds from the state’s Millennium Fund for projects that help prevent people from becoming addicted to tobacco and help those who already are to quit. Here in Idaho, low-income women use tobacco at above-average rates. The 2014 Surgeon General’s Report on the health consequences of tobacco found that tobacco use increases a woman’s risk for 12 types of cancer, including cervical cancer, and was suggestive of a link to breast cancer. In fact, women who smoke are twice as likely as nonsmokers to develop cervical cancer. Reducing tobacco use can lower cancer incidence rates, improve the effectiveness of cancer treatments and prevent one out of every three cancer deaths in the United States.
That’s why the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN) knows it’s equally as important to educate policymakers and Idaho’s most vulnerable and underserved women — many of whom are low-income, uninsured or underinsured — about the link between tobacco use and cancer. To save lives, we need to simultaneously increase breast and cervical cancer screenings and decrease tobacco use.
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Without proper screening and diagnosis, cancer is often found at late stages — costing lives and more money to treat. If breast cancer is detected early, the five-year survival rate is 99 percent, but when it’s diagnosed later due to lack of earlier detection, the survival rate drops to only 25 percent. Cervical cancer can be completely prevented by removing precancerous lesions found during routine screenings. However, only 16 percent of women will survive a late-stage cervical cancer diagnosis.
I know the importance of early cancer screenings because early detection saved my life. Let’s ensure all of Idaho’s women have access to these lifesaving screenings. I urge the Joint Legislature Millennium Fund Committee to support ACS CAN’s grant request so we can work with the Idaho Women’s Health Check, and area medical providers and agencies, to reduce tobacco consumption and increase both breast and cervical cancer screenings.
Jennifer Poole is the Idaho grass-roots manager for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, the nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy affiliate of the American Cancer Society. She is a breast cancer survivor and lives in Boise.