Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr.

OpEd

October 20, 2005

Sen. Lucio promotes breast cancer screening/education
Explains recent legislation to aid in effort for low-income women

Breast cancer remains a prevalent danger to American women, accounting for nearly one out of three cancer diagnoses. Approximately 12,860 Texas women will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year.

This issue is close to home, since we have two women in our family who are cancer survivors, and they are a source of inspiration to me and many others. Unfortunately, my mother-in-law lost her battle with this disease, so in her memory I strongly urge all women to make breast cancer exams a part of their health routines.

As the second leading cause of cancer death in women, it is estimated that breast cancer will claim 2,460 Texas lives this year. Many of these lost lives could be prevented through early detection. The best method of early detection for women when they reach 40 is a mammogram, while younger women should receive annual clinical exams and every woman should perform self-exams.

Although we do not yet have prevention for breast cancer, what we do know is that lifestyle factors can help lower the incidence of this disease, such as reducing alcohol use, breast-feeding, engaging in regular physical activity and eating at least five servings of fruits and vegetables daily. Half of all breast cancers are diagnosed in women older than 61, so forming early health habits is vital. Other risks include family history, genetic tendency, past breast cancer and poor lifestyle choices.

The treatment of breast cancer is most successful when undertaken early, and women considered at a higher risk of developing the disease benefit the most from early detection and early treatment.

It is important to remember that it is costlier to treat a woman for breast cancer than to perform routine screenings. In 1998, breast cancer treatment cost the state $1.2 billion.

Thanks to the efforts of countless individuals with organizations like the American Cancer Society, our medical professionals and state agencies, the death rate from breast cancer in women has decreased since 1990. Unfortunately, it has shown an increase of 1.1 percent in males, but little is known about this disease in males and more research is needed. But while improvement in breast cancer treatment and early detection has led to a decline--primarily among younger women--racial and ethnic groups have benefited less. From 1990 to 2002, female breast cancer death rates declined by 2.4 percent per year in whites, while only 1.8 percent in Hispanics/Latinas and an even lower rate of 1.0 percent in African Americans and Asian Americans.

The primary reason for a lower decline rate among minorities is poverty. By 2020, Hispanics are expected to outnumber all other race/ethnic groups in Texas. Hispanics represent a disproportionate number of Texans living in poverty, and make up nearly 60 percent of the 3.4 million Texans who are poor. These high poverty levels are associated with a lower proportion of cancers diagnosed at early-stage disease, when prognosis for survival is considered highest.

To improve access to screenings, I co-authored Senate Bill 747 during the 79th regular session. This bill directs the Health and Human Services Commission to apply to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services for a "waiver" to expand eligibility for family planning services for low-income women. In receiving these services, women would be given breast and cervical cancer screenings as well. Women between the ages of 18 and 64 in families earning up to 185 percent of the federal poverty level ($34,873 for a family of four) would be eligible for services under this waiver.

This past legislative session, we also allocated $2.2 million to create a "gold standard" cancer registry as part of the Texas Cancer Registry operated by the Texas Department of State Health Services. This funding will provide researchers with adequate data on incidents of cancer in Texas and enable them to improve their efforts toward fighting cancer.

Breast cancer is a disease that can be stopped, but it will require everyone's effort and diligence. I urge my fellow Texans to remind the women in their lives to practice healthy habits and early detection. For information on mammogram screenings (including free and low-cost), please call the American Cancer Society at 800-227-2345 or their office in Edinburg at 956-682-8320. For the Kleberg/Kenedy area, please call the Corpus Christi office at 361-857-0134.

Editor's Note: As always, if you have any input or questions regarding these or other matters, please do not hesitate to contact Doris Sanchez, my press secretary at my office in Austin at 512-463-0385.

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