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SUNDAY, MARCH 18, 2007

Alabama ties for third in cervical cancer prevention

By Amanda Thomas
Associated Press Writer

MONTGOMERY — Alabama was ranked among the top-performing states for its efforts against cervical cancer in a national report issued by a nonprofit organization of women state legislators.

But even with stepped-up screening and vaccinations in Alabama, rates of cervical cancer have not gone down and difficulties remain in helping poor and minority women.

Alabama was tied for third place along with four other states in the Women In Government’s third annual report, released in January and titled “Partnering for Progress 2007: the ‘State’ of Cervical Cancer Prevention in American.”

Minnesota came in first with 83 percent, receiving the report’s first ever “Excellent” grade, while Illinois placed second with a score of 78. Alabama received a 72 to tie it with Connecticut, Maine, North Carolina and Rhode Island.

Alabama’s score, up from a “Very Good” 69 percent the year before, was based in part on efforts to screen for cervical cancer in the past three years and the percentage of women with health insurance (82 percent). It also showed the state’s Medicaid program covers testing for HPV, a disease that can lead to cervical cancer, and a Pap test for routine screening of women aged 30 or older.

Cancer rate up since 2005

But the state’s cervical cancer incidence rate has increased since 2005. A bill was also introduced, for a second time, to create the Alabama Cervical Cancer Elimination Task Force, but it didn’t pass.

“Most states have made significant progress in the fight against cervical cancer since we began our annual state-by-state assessment in 2005,” Susan Crosby, president of Women In Government, said.

But the report also showed that, while states are making progress, there are still racial disparities in cervical cancer incidence, mortality and screening rates. States are also faced with a lack of access to care for low-income women. These disparities point to health care gaps that may prevent all women from benefiting from new screening and prevention technologies.

“It is important for everyone to work together to create a positive environment for all women to receive the most advanced and appropriate preventive technologies regardless of their economic status,” Crosby said.

The Alabama Department of Public Health’s Breast and Cervical Cancer Screening Program provides exams for women at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level — for 2007, that poverty level is $10,210 for an individual and $20,650 for a family of four.

Women who meet these guidelines are eligible for a Pap test, pelvic exam, breast exam and mammography referral.

More than 42,500 women in Alabama have been screened for breast and cervical cancer through the program, which began in 1996. Of those women, 544 invasive cervical cancers and 45 invasive breast cancers have been found.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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