CDC cancer screening program for underserved women effective, but lacks reach

The implementation nearly a quarter of a century ago in the U.S. of a program offering free breast and cervical cancer screening to low-income and uninsured women has probably prevented thousands of cancer deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program (NBCCEDP) began in 1991 and has provided more than 4.3 million women with breast and cervical cancer screening and diagnostic services.

According to a series of reports published online in the journal Cancer, between 1991 and 2011 56,662 breast cancers, 3,206 cervical cancers, and 152,470 precancerous cervical lesions have been detected through the program. The estimated cost of providing cancer screening through the NBCCEDP was $145 per woman.

"Today, millions of women have benefited from the timely screening and diagnostic services offered by CDC's National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program," Ursula E. Bauer, director, CDC's National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, said in an announcement. "This program has made tremendous contributions in public health through strengthening partnerships, healthcare collaborations, and quality of care, but also at a personal level by serving women directly."

The various reports detailed some of the results of the NBCCEDP. For example, according to one report, the NBCCEDP has been able to improve screening of American Indians and Alaskan Natives by helping fund state, tribal nation and tribal organization screening programs.

However, another report by Jacqueline Miller, M.D., and colleagues from the CDC lamented the fact that while the NBCCEDP has served millions of women, it has only been able to reach a relative small percentage who are eligible for the program.

For example, past analyses have found that the program reaches just slightly more than 13 percent of the women eligible for breast cancer screening and 9 percent of women eligible for cervical cancer screening; more recent research has found that those numbers are decreasing as the eligible population rises. Another article suggested that the program is failing to reach more underserved women because of issues relating, but not restricted to, education levels, lack of knowledge about cancer screening, lack of access and mistrust of physicians and the healthcare system.

To learn more:
- see the series of reports in Cancer
- read the CDC announcement