Abby Struffert discusses the Ladies First breast and cervical cancer screening program at the joint Kenai and Soldotna Chamber meeting in Soldotna on Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2021. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)

Abby Struffert discusses the Ladies First breast and cervical cancer screening program at the joint Kenai and Soldotna Chamber meeting in Soldotna on Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2021. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)

Local health care chapter looks to boost women’s cancer screenings

Ladies First program is a nationwide health care initiative that provides free cervical cancer and breast cancer screenings.

A statewide cancer screening and diagnostic program is trying to boost participation on the Kenai Peninsula, the organization’s local representative said during a joint Kenai and Soldotna Chamber luncheon Wednesday.

Abby Struffert spoke to a group about the Ladies First program — a nationwide health care initiative that provides free cervical cancer and breast cancer screenings as well as diagnostic procedures, for those who qualify. The program is funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“My hope is that people would see this and know, when they walk away, if they’re qualified or not,” Struffert said Wednesday. “And then maybe they might be more enticed to call and get enrolled.”

To qualify, a woman must be between the ages of 21 and 64, not be enrolled in Medicare Part B insurance and meet specific financial criteria, which Struffert said still operates on the “honor system.”

The financial criteria is as follows:

Single-person households making less than $40,225 annually, two-person households making less than $54,425 combined annually, three-person households making less than $68,625 combined annually, four-person households making less than $82,825 combined annually, five-person households making less than $97,025 combined annually, six-person households making less than $111,225 combined annually, and seven-person households making less than $125,425 combined annually.

Struffert said one of the most common misconceptions about the program is that insured people can’t enroll. They definitely can, she said.

“That’s awesome, that’s great that you’re insured,” she said Wednesday. “(But) this is a wonderful double option.”

Any post-insurance bills associated with cervical cancer or breast cancer screening, as well as diagnostic procedures and some travel costs will be covered by Ladies First, Struffert said. For example, the removal of a mass of cells and subsequent biopsy would be subsidized through the program.

Ladies First does not, however, cover costs associated with a cancer diagnosis, but rather focuses more on prevention than treatment.

“Oftentimes in breast cancer or any type of cancer we’re fundraising … or raising awareness about the cure, which is extremely important,” Struffert said. “But this is a program that’s local and impacting women locally here or individuals that need this type of screening.”

According to the CDC, breast cancer is the second most common cancer among women in the country. The agency also states that cervical cancer deaths have “decreased significantly” over the past 40 years, largely as a result of regular Pap smear testing.

Women 40 to 49 years old are recommended to consult with their health care provider to determine their best mammogram regimen, while women 50 to 74 years old and are at average risk for breast cancer should get a mammogram every two years, according to the CDC.

Additionally, the agency recommends women ages 21 to 65 get a Pap test once every three years. For women 30 to 65 years old, additional testing for human papillomavirus infection may be advised.

Struffert said Ladies First is an under-utilized program, and that especially during breast cancer awareness month she hopes to increase enrollment.

“This is a program … that we can talk about and share with our friends and family, coworkers, employees locally here and across our state that will help them get access to the screening that they need that could save their life,” she said.

There are multiple ways to enroll for the Ladies First program: filling out an enrollment form at a participating doctor’s office, arranging an appointment with Struffert by calling 907-252-1772 or emailing southcentralconsultingak@gmail.com, and calling the Anchorage office at 1-800-410-6266.

Reach reporter Camille Botello at camille.botello@peninsulaclarion.com.

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