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Vanessa Cullins Headshot

Early Cancer Detection Saves Lives

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As an ob/gyn, I understand the critical need for women to have access to preventive breast care and clinical breast exams - care that helps to detect breast cancer early when there is the best chance of successful treatment. During my more than 10 years in practice, I provided countless breast exams that have identified potential cancers in women, and this early detection no doubt helped save lives (and brought peace of mind for my patients).

I also understand the need from a personal perspective: Breast cancer runs rampant in my family. My mother died from breast cancer in 1987. My grandmother was a survivor. My first cousin was also diagnosed with the disease. I've seen firsthand the ravages and pain that breast cancer can create for a woman and her family. Considering how prevalent the disease is in my family, it should come as no surprise that I'm considered high risk. I'm lucky, though, in that I have health insurance that covers my routine breast exams, mammograms, and biopsies.

But women who are uninsured or underinsured don't have that luxury.

So many patients that we see at Planned Parenthood health centers are these women--women who have lost their jobs, and have then lost their insurance as a result. Women who work for small businesses that don't offer health insurance benefits. Women struggling to put food on the table and take care of their families. Women who want to take care of their health too, but don't have time or the money.

At Planned Parenthood, we're always looking for ways to provide more care to women like this, in need of affordable, quality health care. And now we can--thanks to an outpouring of donations from the public after the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation stopped providing grants to Planned Parenthood because of intense pressure from political groups and then quickly reversed course earlier this year.

As a result of this incredible support, we are expanding our breast health work to provide more services to our patients. The program is designed to help more young women and women with above average risk understand their risk and what screening is needed, and also connect them with needed follow-up care, such as diagnostic mammograms, ultrasounds, or biopsies. Where possible, we will aim to provide financial assistance for this care for patients who need it. Additionally, our promotores who do outreach in Spanish-speaking, underserved communities will receive training and resources to integrate breast health into their existing programs. And we are designing a digital education and outreach program which provide women looking for information online with additional tools to educate them about breast health and the importance of clinical exams. Finally, Planned Parenthood doctors and nurses will be trained to use a new tool that will help them better assess risk in patients -- including younger patients.

Planned Parenthood is uniquely suited to do this work, as a trusted provider for all women and especially low-income women, who often have nowhere else to turn. Last year, Planned Parenthood health centers performed nearly 750,000 breast cancer screenings nationwide, helping women detect breast cancer and empowering them to take control of their health. Now, we will be able to serve our existing patients with even more resources--and reach new patients.