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Pink license plates support cancer screening for uninsured

Earlier this month, Governor Lincoln D. Chaffee joined the Gloria Gemma Breast Cancer Resource Foundation to introduce a new pink state license plate designed to raise breast cancer awareness and support the R.I. Department of Health’s Women’s Cancer Screening Program (WCSP). Established in 1995, the WCSP works to reduce mortality and morbidity related to breast and cervical cancer, especially among low-income, uninsured, underinsured, elderly and ethnic minority individuals.

Proceeds from sales of the plate will be donated to the WCSP. While $21.50 of the $41.50 total cost will cover the plate’s production, $20 from each plate sold will be donated to the WCSP.

The WCSP is a frequent recipient of Gloria Gemma Breast Cancer Resource Foundation support. During the last two years alone, the foundation donated $50,000 to the organization.

The announcement, which took place at the State House in Providence, was timed to coincide with October’s National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

“October is phenomenal in terms of awareness, but for the foundation breast cancer awareness is a year-round job,” said Maria Gemma, executive director of the Gloria Gemma Breast Cancer Resource Foundation. “The support, programs, services and events we offer patients, survivors and their families are free, but for a lot of women in this state early detection tools are simply out of reach because they are unavailable or unaffordable.”

Crucial early breast and cervical cancer detection tools like mammograms, clinical breast exams, Pap and HPV tests can cost hundreds of dollars. For some Rhode Islanders, these tests are prohibitively expensive.

The WCSP helps to close this gap by covering the cost of an office visit including a Pap smear, pelvic exam, referral for a mammogram, most diagnostic services and a referral for treatment, if needed, through hundreds of WCSP participating provider sites throughout Rhode Island.

“To date, the WCSP has enrolled and provided breast and cervical cancer screening and diagnostic services through our participating provider sites to over 30,000 women in Rhode Island diagnosing 394 breast cancers and 32 invasive cervical cancers,” said WCSP Program Director Brenda Di Paolo.

“The WCSP provides breast and cervical cancer screening and follow-up services to approximately 5,000 women a year,” she added.

The WCSP receives $1.5 million annually from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which require that at least 75 percent of screening mammograms provided through the WCSP must be provided to women age 50 and over. Funds donated by the Gemma Foundation, including from sales of the plate, allow the WCSP to expand access to screening mammograms to include women between the ages of 40 and 49.

“The generosity of organizations like the foundation allows us not only to meet the CDC requirement but most importantly to provide access and expand services to more program eligible women in Rhode Island,” said Di Paolo.

According to data provided by the Rhode Island Cancer Registry, mortality from breast cancer in the state decreased by 40 percent between 1987 and 2008. Between 2004 and 2008, the breast cancer mortality rate in Rhode Island was 5 percent less than the national rate.

Considering Rhode Island’s breast cancer mortality rate between 1988 and 1992, 16 percent higher than the national rate, this data represents significant progress.

“With more women receiving regular mammograms, we will likely see an increase in the rate of breast cancer occurrence in the short term,” said Gemma. “I am confident our ongoing collaboration with the WCSP will eventually increase early detection and decrease mortality.”

Uninsured women age 40 and older who have questions about their eligibility should visit www.health.ri.gov/programs/womenscancerscreening or call 222-4324.


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