WASHINGTON—Rep. Sue Myrick remembers how emotional it was to find out that breast cancer was threatening her life.
Unsettled by how difficult it had been to get a correct diagnosis in 1999, the North Carolina Republican began to champion the issue and was troubled to find out about the hurdles that women who lack adequate medical insurance face. The women might be able to find programs offering free or low-cost mammograms and Pap tests, but a cancer diagnosis didn't give them access to medical treatment.
"So it was like a doctor says to you, `I'm sorry you have cancer, but I can't help,'" Myrick said. "To me, (that) is the same as a death sentence."
At a ceremony in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on Friday, Myrick watched as President Bush signed a bill meant to give those women a better chance at survival.
The legislation she sponsored reauthorizes an early detection program for breast and cervical cancers, and gives states the option to use Medicaid dollars to treat women diagnosed through it.
"This is an effective program," Bush said. "Since its creation, the program has conducted nearly 7 million cancer screenings, it's diagnosed thousands of cases of breast and cervical cancer, and it's helped educate women about the importance of early detection."
This year alone, the program administered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will offer an estimated 700,000 screenings for low-income and uninsured women, he said.
The law calls for $275 million in funding over the next five years, an increase over the $202 million that pays for about one in five eligible women, according to the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.
"This valuable program provides medically underserved women with access to screenings that catch cancer at its earliest, most treatable stages and save lives," said Daniel E. Smith, president of the group that led the lobbying effort on the bill.
Myrick, who now co-chairs the House Cancer Caucus, said breast pain eight years ago led her to examinations by five doctors and three mammograms, but none of them pointed to cancer. Insisting something wasn't right with her body, she went to a friend's radiologist and an ultrasound revealed the cancer clearly. She had surgery, chemotherapy and radiation and has remained cancer-free since.
CANCER IN WOMEN
_About 178,500 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer and 40,500 will die in 2007 as a result of the most common cancer among women.
_Cervical cancer will be diagnosed in an estimated 11,100 cases this year, with 3,600 deaths.
Source: American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network
(c) 2007, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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