Colorado’s public health department reminds women to prioritize cancer screening through grant-funded program
A campaign to help publicize the Women’s Wellness Connection has begun. , The campaign provides a more accessible way for underinsured and uninsured women to receive breast and cervical cancer screening,
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment started the Women’s Wellness Connection program in 1991 as a way to ease the financial burden for women’s cancer screenings. The program is federally funded, and hospitals can apply for grants to support the program at their local clinic.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many women avoided medical settings and disrupted their yearly checkups, said Sarah Dayton, the grant manager for the Summit Community Care Clinic. The clinic has been offering the program in Summit County since 2017 and free breast cancer screening since 2005.
“I feel like there’s some women who are really good and keep track of it, and I’ve talked to them where they’ve been like, ‘Oh, yeah, gosh, I’ve totally forgotten because I got off track because of COVID,’” Dayton said.
She theorized that one reason the department of public health may be advertising the program again is to remind women of the importance of preventative care.
According to the news release from the department of public health, one in three women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime, and one in eight women will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer in their lifetime.
Dr. David Biggs offers hematology and oncology care at St. Anthony Summit Hospital in Frisco. He highly encourages preventative exams and said screening with early detection can reduce the death rate caused by breast cancer by nearly 20%.
He added that “no one should ever die from cervical cancer,” as long as they prioritize their pap test (also known as a pap smear) screenings.
During a pap test, a doctor swabs a woman’s cervix to test for cancerous cells. It is recommended women over 21 years old get a test every three to five years in addition to an HPV test, according to the news release.
Biggs recommended that breast cancer screenings should start at age 40, and be performed either once or twice a year.
“Women who are inhibited from getting screening through lack of access, those are things that we should, in this society, be able to overcome,” he said.
Women’s Wellness Connection helps to lessen those barriers.
“Anything I can do to help get word out about free cancer screening is extremely worthwhile,” Biggs said.
From June 2021 to June 2022, the Summit Care Clinic provided 303 women with free screening services. In addition, 213 women received free cervical cancer screenings, and 144 women received free breast cancer screenings.
If a client does not have insurance, the entire visit is covered by a grant from the state’s department of public health.
The grant pays for in-office clinical breast exams including mammograms, radiology, reading of the radiology and even a biopsy if it is necessary following the breast exam. For cervical cancer, the program pays for a pap test and HPV test, the lab results of that test and the cost of a procedure if HPV test results come back positive.
Dayton said the clinic provides services at their facility or at St. Anthony Summit Hospital. Procedures at St. Anthony are financially covered by a memorandum of understanding, Dayton said.
The program is offered to women who are underinsured or without insurance.
Dayton recommended that underinsured women should speak with their medical provider about the possibility of participating in the program.
According to the Women’s Wellness Connection webpage, to qualify, household income levels for a single person “generally” must be under $34,000 per year and for a household of four, around $70,000.
Women’s Wellness Connection is offered at more than 100 hospitals across Colorado. For more information about the program or to see if you qualify, visit WomensWellnessConnection.org.
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