There’s a serious threat facing all women regardless of age, ethnicity, and financial and social status – one in eight women will develop breast cancer in her lifetime.
More than 950 cases of breast cancer are reported every year in the Central Valley, and 353 of those cases are diagnosed at a late stage – meaning it’s harder to treat and harder to beat.
One in eight women will develop breast cancer in her lifetime.
“In Fresno County area 32 – [it’s] 40 to 49 percent late stage breast cancer diagnosis. And that’s in Reedley, Parlier, Orange Cove – Squaw Valley,” said Sharon Johnson with Susan G. Komen Northern and Central California.
They’re from the California Cancer Registry, and it indicates that rural areas have a higher late stage breast cancer diagnosis rate. But even in urban areas, women who work – even those with insurance – risk late stage diagnosis by skipping their annual screenings.
“It was five years since I had been tested,” said Norma Jones, 59, of Fresno.
Jones put off her mammogram for years even though she had a strong family history of breast cancer.
“My mother was diagnosed, and she had both breasts removed. And she was fairly young when that happened,” Jones said.
Jones said work got in the way of taking care of herself.
“I’m like a workaholic, and a lot of times women who work – we really don’t have the time,” she said.
In rural areas, a lack of income, transportation or awareness can be factors as well.
“Women may be new to the state – maybe new to the Central Valley. Maybe [they don’t] have the residency statuses that would help them qualify for other types of medical insurance,” said Argelia Flores, health educator for Every Woman Counts – a state-funded program providing breast and cervical cancer screenings for qualifying women over 40.
“The qualifications are at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level – so low income – have a California address and have no medical insurance,” Flores said.
Women in the program receive annual screenings free of charge. As of Jan. 1, women under 40 who have breast cancer symptoms like a lump, pain or a rash are covered as well.
“If there’s an abnormality that needs a second look – a more detailed look, those additional tests – those additional screens will be provided through the Every Woman Counts program,” Flores said.
Getting the word out about this life-saving program can be a challenge. Clinica Sierra Vista southwest of Fresno sends letters, text messages or makes phone calls to women in their database. But often the response still comes too late.
“I think they’re coming in at the point when they have symptoms. Because sometimes we don’t always know that we’re ill until we start having those symptoms, and at that time it’s really late; and that’s when we’re trying to tackle it and obviously treat it at that point,” said Ashley Alexander, Clinica Sierra Vista patient navigator.
"It was scary, but I know I needed to get this done."
The bottom line is there is no excuse to skip a screening.
Jones said, “It was scary, but I know I needed to get this done.”
Jones got her mammogram at a mobile mammography unit that came to a weekend screening event near her home. She said it was convenient and fortunately the results were good.
“Everything was fine. I’m fine, so that’s good,” Jones said.
In one year, it will be time to get screened again. Hopefully Jones will find the time to get it done.