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Gov. Blagojevich urges women to register for free breast and cervical cancer screenings and treatment

Expanded program began Sept. 1; call 1-888-522-1282 to enroll

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[SEPT. 14, 2006]  PEORIA -- As September began, Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich urged Illinois women who don't have health insurance to sign up for a newly expanded state program that provides free screenings and treatment for breast and cervical cancer. On Mother's Day, the governor announced the expansion of the Illinois Breast and Cervical Cancer Program, enabling up to 3,000 more uninsured, low-income women in the state to be eligible for free cancer screenings and treatment. The expanded program took effect Sept.1.

Women can find out how to get breast and cervical cancer screening and treatment by visiting or by calling the Women's Health-Line at 888-522-1282 or TTY (hearing-impaired use only) 800-547-0466. Information on the Illinois Breast and Cervical Cancer Program and other women's health issues and programs is also available at

"When it comes to breast and cervical cancer, early detection is the key to survival," Blagojevich said. "When breast cancer is diagnosed early, the survival rate is 96 percent, and cervical cancer is also treatable if detected early. Early detection means finding the cancer before you see the symptoms. But unfortunately, for many women who are uninsured, regular screening is not a realistic option. By expanding the Illinois Breast and Cervical Cancer Program, 3,000 more women will have a shot at early detection, and for those who are diagnosed with breast or cervical cancer, they can now get free treatment even if they were diagnosed outside our system."

Since the governor took office in 2003, the state has given more than 111,000 breast and cervical cancer screenings through the Illinois Healthy Women program, including more than 82,600 screenings provided for nearly 42,000 women through the Illinois Breast and Cervical Cancer Program.

Beginning this month, the Illinois Breast and Cervical Cancer Program will screen and treat more Illinois women. Previously, the program offered mammograms, breast exams, pelvic exams and Pap tests to women at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level, or $40,000 for a family of four. The governor's expansion raises the income threshold to 250 percent of the federal poverty level, or $50,000 for a family of four.

To be eligible, a woman must be uninsured and between the ages of 40 and 64 for mammograms and breast exams, and between 35 and 64 for pelvic exams and Pap tests. On a case-by-case basis, younger, symptomatic women who meet the financial and insurance guidelines are considered for the program.

"As a survivor, I know just how critical early detection really is," said Mary Shoemaker, a 12-year breast cancer survivor and representative of the Peoria Memorial Affiliate of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. "Timely breast cancer screening has already saved the lives of countless Illinois women. By providing this increased funding, Governor Blagojevich will be giving thousands of women in our state a chance to survive the disease. We thank him for taking this giant leap forward on behalf of women's health."

The most recent statistics show that 8,604 women in Illinois were diagnosed with breast or cervical cancer in 2003. That same year, 2,057 women in Illinois died from breast or cervical cancer. It is estimated that almost 9,000 women will be diagnosed with either breast or cervical cancer this year.

An October 2005 study by the Cancer Intervention and Surveillance Modeling Network Collaborators estimated that breast cancer screening reduced the rate of death from breast cancer by up to 23 percent and found that treatment is likely to be more effective if cancer is detected at an earlier stage.

"No one knows what causes breast cancer or how to prevent it, but if breast cancer is found and treated early, women have a much better chance of surviving," said Jan Costello, acting deputy director of the Illinois Department of Public Health Office of Women's Health. "In fact, mammograms are the most effective tool doctors have for detecting breast cancer early and saving lives. And cervical cancer is preventable and curable, which is why regular Pap tests are so important. The Illinois Breast and Cervical Cancer Program reaches out to women who may otherwise not be able to afford these important screenings."

Previously, if a woman was eligible for the program but was diagnosed with breast or cervical cancer outside of the program, then she was not eligible for treatment. The governor's expansion allows women who meet the program's eligibility requirements but are diagnosed outside the current program to go straight into the free treatment program through the Department of Healthcare and Family Services. This gives women more choices and also avoids penalizing women who did not know about the program but who were screened and diagnosed by their doctor, community health center or other health care facility.

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Approximately 425 Illinois women a month are receiving treatment as a result of referrals from the program. With the expansion of eligible women into the program and the entry of more women from other providers into the treatment services, the number of women receiving treatment is expected to double.

Blagojevich has made other significant contributions to promote and improve women's health including:

  • Increased funding for women's health: Blagojevich has consistently made women's health a priority, allocating $24.1 million in state funding for women's breast and cervical health programs over the last four years. This year, Blagojevich allocated $2.1 million in new funding to increase eligibility for lifesaving breast and cervical cancer screenings to women with incomes up to 250 percent of the federal poverty level.

  • Illinois Healthy Women program: The Healthy Women program has helped women across the state who are losing their Medicaid eligibility stay healthy and has promoted healthy births by providing comprehensive coverage for reproductive health care, including annual physicals, Pap smears, mammograms, screening and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, and contraceptives. More than 214,000 women have been offered this program since its inception in 2004.

  • Signed women's health legislation into law: Last summer, Blagojevich signed several pieces of legislation affecting women's health in Illinois. The Ticket for the Cure is a new lottery game to raise money for breast cancer research and services. Senate Bill 12 requires insurance companies to cover screening for breast cancer earlier in a woman's life if her doctor considers her to be at a higher risk of developing breast cancer. House Bill 3564 expanded and renamed the Penny Severns Breast and Cervical Cancer Research Fund to include ovarian cancer research. Senate Bill 521 requires insurers to provide coverage for ovarian cancer screening tests for women who are at risk. In 2004, Blagojevich also signed legislation creating a 12-member Cervical Cancer Elimination Task Force to help educate the public about cervical cancer and develop a statewide comprehensive prevention and control plan.

  • Stand Against Cancer: Beginning in 2003, Blagojevich funded the Stand Against Cancer Initiative, a community outreach and screening program targeting the hardest-to-reach minority women. It is conducted by a coalition of neighborhood organizations, churches and federally qualified health centers. In fiscal 2005, Stand Against Cancer provided more than 17,000 breast and cervical cancer screenings and reached more than 47,200 other women outside of the Illinois Breast and Cervical Cancer Program through educational programs and outreach.

  • Hispanic Breast and Cervical Cancer Initiative: In 2005, Blagojevich launched the Hispanic Breast and Cervical Cancer Initiative, which is closely patterned after Stand Against Cancer. Women screened through the initiative who subsequently need diagnostic tests are referred to local lead agencies for the Illinois Breast and Cervical Cancer Program.

  • Illinois Wisewoman Program: A cardiovascular research program, Well-Integrated Screening and Evaluation for Women Across the Nation, is provided in both English and Spanish languages in 21 Illinois counties. The project is targeted toward women enrolled in the Breast and Cervical Cancer Program and helps them reduce heart disease by leading healthier lifestyles.

  • Women's Health-Line: Increased access to services is available through Women's Health-Line and other informational resources. In fiscal 2006, the state-funded, toll-free Women's Health-Line responded to more than 2,000 requests, referring women to services and providing more than 223,757 free educational materials to women and community providers. These materials are also available through

[News release from the governor's office]

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