Cancer kills many women, especially low-income women, because they can't afford mammography exams and Pap smear tests or because they don't understand the importance of regular screening, health experts say.
Of the 1,772 women who died from breast and cervical cancer in Maryland in 1987 and 1988, the most recent period for which figures are available, more than a third might have been saved if their cancers had been discovered early enough, according to health officials.
The state will use a new $15 million federal grant to provide free or low-cost tests to low-income women who aren't now receiving cancer screening, Nelson J. Sabatini, secretary of the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, said yesterday. He expects the five-year program to reach as many as 12,000 women each year.
The federal money will be supplemented by $5 million in state matching funds over the five years.
"We're going to be able to stop some of these needless deaths," said Mr. Sabatini. "It's going to make a difference."
Breast and cervical cancer screening is already available to poor, elderly or disabled Maryland women covered by Medicare and Medicaid.
Expanded hospital screening programs are also being encouraged by incentives offered through the Health Services Cost Review Commission.
The new federal grant will allow the extension of those services to an estimated 80,000 so-called "gray-area" women -- those ineligible for Medicare or Medicaid, but who have no private insurance and can't afford to pay for the tests, Mr. Sabatini said.
The first $3 million installment of the federal grant, provided under the Breast and Cervical Cancer Mortality Prevention Act of 1990, was presented to Mr. Sabatini yesterday by Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., who authored the legislation.
The tests will be available immediately, either free or on a sliding scale according to the woman's income, Mr. Sabatini said.
Anyone interested should contact her local hospital, public health department or the Department of Social Services for information.
The American Cancer Society recommends annual Pap tests and pelvic exams for all women who have been sexually active, or who are over age 18. After three consecutive tests with normal results, physicians may suggest less frequent testing.
Mammography exams are recommended every one to two years for women in their 40s, and every year for women older than 50.
The federal money will not be available to pay for cancer treatment.
The grant will help pay for stepped-up public education programs to inform women about the need to be tested regularly, for referral and follow-up services, for education of health care professionals and for quality-control monitoring of testing procedures.
Maryland is one of 15 states to receive grants totaling $70 million in the current fiscal year for breast and cervical cancer screening.