CHICAGO – Taking a significant stand in the fight against breast cancer, Illinois First Lady Patti Blagojevich today emphasized the importance of early detection and screening for breast cancer. Speaking at Northwestern Hospital, the First Lady reminded women that the Governor proclaimed October as National Breast Cancer Awareness Month in Illinois, and that there is no better time to take charge of their health.
Prior to today’s event, Mrs. Blagojevich met with her physician to have her own yearly scheduled mammogram. She is well aware of the toll breast cancer is taking on Illinois women, as well as the important role early detection can play in fighting the disease.
“Having a yearly exam and mammogram is one way I know I can help protect myself against breast cancer,” said Mrs. Blagojevich. “I am here today, on National Mammography Day, to make sure every woman in Illinois is aware of the importance of early breast cancer detection and screening.”
“Breast Cancer will take the lives of nearly 1,800 women this year alone,” continued Mrs. Blagojevich. “I cannot sit back and allow this to happen. Every woman in this state, no matter where she lives or how much money she has, deserves access to the same screening and early detection resources needed to keep healthy. It is necessary that women are aware that early detection and prompt treatment can significantly reduce the suffering caused by breast cancer. I strongly encourage all women to take time to get their screenings, perform self exams, and see their physicians for regular check-ups.”
According to the American Cancer Society, more than 9,600 new cases of breast cancer will be
diagnosed among women in Illinois this year. One in eight women will develop breast cancer during their lifetime and many will die because of it. These devastating statistics are the reason why early screening and detection are so important in battling the disease. Recent studies have shown that deaths from breast cancer for women in their forties can be reduced by 17 percent and by at least 30 percent for women ages 50-69, if they follow breast cancer screening recommendations, include routine mammography, regular examinations by a physician, and monthly self exams.
Following the First Lady’s remarks, State Senator Carol Ronen gave a personal testimonial on the importance of regular breast cancer screening. “I applaud the First Lady’s effort to increase breast cancer awareness,” said Senator Ronan. “As a breast cancer survivor, I understand first hand the value and importance of early detection. It has helped to save many lives, my own included, and I have no doubt that it will continue to protect many women for years to come. Mrs. Blagojevich’s efforts will benefit the health of women statewide.”
Joining Senator Ronen was Donna Thompson, CEO of the Access Community Health Network and a member of The Stand Against Cancer Initiative. Emphasizing the importance of routine breast cancer screening, Mrs. Thompson spoke of the many women whose lives have been saved by early detection. The Stand Against Cancer Initiative works to target the hardest to reach minority women throughout Illinois. Strongly supported by the state, the initiative is conducted by a coalition of neighborhood organizations, churches, and Federally Qualified Health Centers. It provides cancer screening examinations, and aims to reach thousands of women through community educational programs. Programs such as Stand Against Cancer allow women to take charge of their health, giving them the opportunity to screen for breast cancer while it is still in the beginning stages. The Stand Against Cancer Initiative has been pivotal in increasing awareness and early diagnosis, giving many low-income women the opportunity to stop breast cancer before it stops them.
In the past, women in communities that are disproportionately poor and disproportionately minority have rarely had access to the health care they need. This is an issue the First Lady is well aware of. She understands the importance of ensuring that every woman in Illinois, no matter whether she is insured or not, understands that there are state funded resources available to her that can help protect her against breast cancer.
“Uninsured women with low incomes are less likely to have regular mammograms, and as a result, have an increased risk of dying of breast cancer,” said Mrs. Blagojevich. “My goal today is to let women know there are programs, such as the Illinois Breast and Cervical Cancer Program, that can provide them with the screenings and early detection that they need. ”
The Illinois Breast and Cervical Cancer Program is a state funded program providing free screenings to low-income women between the ages of 35 and 64 who don’t have health insurance. Provided through the Illinois Department of Public Health, the program has given almost 19,000 women access to free screenings in the past year alone. If breast cancer is found, women are eligible for free treatment through the Illinois Department of Public Aid.
The Illinois Breast and Cervical Cancer Program is just one of many state funded programs aiding in the fight against breast cancer. Governor Blagojevich, since taking office, has increased breast cancer funding by nearly $5 million. This funding has been used to ensure that women throughout Illinois receive breast and cervical cancer screenings. Using a combination of faith-based and community-based organizations and health centers, clinics and hospitals, the state has worked to reach women in hard-to-reach communities to stress the importance of early detection of breast and cervical cancer, screening and treatment.
In addition to focusing on breast cancer awareness and early detection, Illinois continues to place a high priority on research. The Department of Public Health administers the Penny Severns Breast and Cervical Cancer Research fund, named after late State Senator Penny Severns, who died of breast cancer. The State directs $245,000 annually to the fund, and taxpayers support the fund with contributions when filing their annual state income tax funds. Since 1993, over $1.8 million has been donated by Illinois taxpayers to help fund 85 research projects in Illinois relating to early detection, prevention and treatment of breast and cervical cancer.
“The health of Illinois women is too precious to neglect,” said Mrs. Blagojevich. “We must work together to increase breast cancer awareness. A simple mammogram may be the deciding factor between life and death. Women must know that there are state funded resources available to them that can detect, prevent, and treat this disease. I encourage anyone with questions about breast cancer education and screening to contact the Illinois Department of Public Health’s Office of Women’s Health toll-free hotline at 1-888-522-1282.”