By Katie Horneffer, Intern, Care4Carolina
Nearly 10,000 women in North Carolina have been diagnosed with breast cancer this year. The disease is tragically common, with one out of eight women at risk of developing breast cancer in their lifetime. Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths among women: 1,500 North Carolinians have died from this disease in the past year alone. Fortunately, with appropriate screenings and early intervention, breast cancer does not have to be deadly. In honor of uninsured women who cannot afford breast cancer detection and treatment, North Carolina leaders should close the health insurance coverage gap this Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
The research is clear: in states that closed their coverage gap, women detect their breast cancer earlier. Regular mammograms can increase the likelihood that breast cancer is detected in its early stages, when treatment is more effective. When women have access to affordable health insurance, they are more likely to see their doctor for these regular screenings. In fact, one Louisiana study found that closing the coverage gap increased diagnosis of early-stage breast cancer in the state by 27%.
Early diagnosis saves lives. In states that closed their coverage gap, women with breast cancer are more likely to survive—driven mainly by the fact that they receive a diagnosis while the cancer is still its early stages.
After diagnosis, women in states that have closed their gaps also have better access to treatment and care. After Louisiana closed its coverage gap, women were 19% more likely to receive radiotherapy after breast-conserving surgery and 16% less likely to experience a delay in this treatment. Kentucky, too, saw improvements in access to care after closing the gap, with more women undergoing breast conservation surgery. Finally, closing the coverage gap increases access to breast reconstruction. This type of procedure can be an important way to help women feel comfortable and regain confidence after undergoing a mastectomy.
Annually, October is a time to educate women about the disease, its symptoms, and the importance of prevention. Pink is the symbol of raising awareness and reminding women to seek out screenings. Yet for women without access to affordable health insurance, education alone isn’t enough—they also need to find a way to access mammograms and doctor’s visits. By closing the coverage gap, North Carolina will give more women the tools they need to win their battles against this serious disease.