Health Team

Edgecombe Fighting Bad Numbers About Breast Cancer

A report shows the county's women die at a rate well above the national average, and a task force is pushing to get that number down.

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TARBORO, N.C. — Breast cancer survival overall has improved because of better screening methods and treatment, but there are some dramatic exceptions, including what happens to women in Edgecombe County.

Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the nation’s best-known breast-cancer advocacy group, lists Edgecombe County as having the 16th-worst mortality rate for breast cancer in the United States.

Nationally, an average of 26.4 percent of women with breast cancer will die from it. In Edgecombe County, the disease claims 38 percent of those who have it.

County leaders hope to turn those numbers around.

Wendell “Wick” Baker, president of Heritage Hospital in Tarboro, is part of a county task force that was formed to promote early detection of breast cancer. The group also wants to know why their death rate is so high.

“We don't want to be on that list,” Backer said.

A look at the Edgecombe County statistics does not turn up some of the disparities that often explain different health-care outcomes.

A Komen for the Cure report showed that just as many Caucasian women died from the disease in the county as did African Americans. Komen for the Cure grants pay for screening for uninsured and under-insured patients, so low income should not keep woman away.

Instead, it may be that not enough women understand how important screening is.

Among county employees, there are 227 women aged 40 and older. Insurance records show only 147 − or 65 percent − of them had mammograms.

”So it's not just poor women who don't have health insurance. These numbers and these women are women who work, have jobs,” said Eric Evans of the county Economic Development Office.

To try to change the numbers, the Task Force is starting an awareness campaign and arranging free transportation to get women to screening sites.

Marva G. Scott has never missed an annual exam and, as county social services director, she's getting the word out to women who've never done it.

“I think there is some fear among others that if I go, I may find out something I don't want to find out,” Scott said. But she added, “It's worth it for every woman to encourage the next woman to do the same.”

The best reason is that in the case of breast cancer, it's what you do know that can save your life.

Heritage Hospital in Tarboro is the only site in Edgecombe County that provides mammograms. The nearest alternative sites are in Rocky Mount and Greenville.


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