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Money well spent on cancer tests


One in nine American women will develop breast cancer over the course of a lifetime. Those disturbing odds underscore the importance for screening for the disease in order to encourage early detection and treatment for all women.

And yet, countless times we are reminded that many women delay having a mammogram or breast exam until it is too late for effective treatment. The same is true for Pap smears to detect cervical cancer.

Often, the reason for delay is simply the fear of the unknown. Little can be done about that obstruction beyond education.

But another reason that many women delay -- a lack of means to afford medical assistance -- is a shameful reflection on society, a situation that should not be allowed to continue.

That is why it is good to hear during this time of national retrenchment that new resources from the federal and state government are being made available to help poor, elderly women get the cervical and breast exams they need.

In Maryland, all of the state's 24 jurisdictions are receiving grants that will provide free mammography screening, clinical breast exams, Pap smears and pelvic exams to women 50 and older who are uninsured, underinsured or have high deductibles on their medical insurance. The program also covers the costs of laboratory tests.

In Howard County, for instance, officials expect to provide the exams to 250 women a year. That is well worth the $100,879 grant the county's health department is receiving to run the program in its first year.

Not only is it money well spent in the humanitarian sense, it is also a logical use of scarce resources throughout the state.

Early detection for these diseases could substantially reduce medical costs associated with the higher-priced treatments necessary in advanced cases.

As heartened as we are by this program, we are mindful that it may be short-lived. A wave of new budget cuts could see it sacrificed to other priorities. Or it may be folded into a larger national health care plan being considered by the Clinton administration.

The latter situation would be more consistent with the trend toward preventive care. Detecting cancer early is always a worthwhile goal. Removing costs as an excuse smoothes the way in that direction.

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