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 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 funds over the five years.
"We're going to be able to stop some of these needless deaths," Mr. Sabatini said. "It's going to make a difference."
Breast and cervical cancer screening already is available to poor, elderly or disabled Maryland women covered by Medicare and Medicaid.
Expanded hospital screening programs also are 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.