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Escondido, San Marcos women less likely to get screened for breast cancer

REGION — The San Diego Susan G. Komen Foundation has identified Escondido and San Marcos as high-priority areas for breast cancer screening because of the amount of barriers to healthcare.

According to Laura Farmer Sherman, executive director of Komen San Diego, every year the foundation does community profiles to identify areas with barriers to health care and pockets of the county with high diagnoses of late-stage breast cancer.

About 20 percent of people in Escondido and San Marcos live in poverty. Sherman said those living in poverty are less likely to get screened for breast cancer because of the cost.

“If you have the choice between (getting) a mammogram, or (putting) food on the table, you’re going to choose putting food on the table,” Sherman said.

Other barriers that caused the foundation to identify the area as high-priority include lack of health care, unemployment, and language and culture barriers.

Nearly a third of people in Escondido and San Marcos ages 40 to 64 lack health insurance and almost 20 percent don’t speak English, according to a report released by the foundation.

Komen San Diego partners with local organizations to offer free or reduced breast cancer services, including mammograms and ultrasound screenings.

As a means to overcome language barriers, Sherman said women can call 211 at any time to find healthcare providers who offer services in their language.

Farmer also said some women are afraid to get care because of a lack of legal citizenship. She said they never ask women for citizenship documents.

“Breast cancer doesn’t know the boundaries of citizenship and neither do we,” Farmer said.

In an effort to increase access to care, Farmer said they’re working to increase health care providers’ hours during the weekend so women working multiple jobs can find a time to get screened.

Komen San Diego hosts mammogram events where women can get screened. Farmer said it’s important to get screened annually because it’s easier to treat when detected early.

They also aim to educate women in order to spread information by word of mouth.

Another issue she said women in the area face is transportation. The majority of women Komen targets are mothers above the age of 35, and Farmer said sometimes taking public transit isn’t feasible.

“It’s nearly impossible to get from some neighborhoods, in San Marcos especially. Sometimes you have to walk a few miles and then transfer a couple of times and it may take up to five hours,” said Farmer.

She said it’s one of the major obstacles to increasing breast cancer screening but they’re working on transportation options where women get picked up and taken to their appointments.

The foundation also faces the issue of funding. Farmer said the majority of funding comes from people making small donations, not major benefactors.

“The average gift to Susan G. Komen is $35 and there are thousands and thousands and thousands of those $35,” Farmer said.

A single mammogram costs about $125 and the San Diego Komen Foundation performed over 12,000 in 2014.

The Race for the Cure in Balboa Park brought in $1.2 million for the foundation last November and they do fundraising year round.

She said women have a habit of putting others before themselves and in order to reduce mortality rates caused by breast cancer, women need to take a day for themselves.

“This is something we can do something about. We’re completely focused on effecting mortality rates of breast cancer in San Diego County and we have a proven track record of doing that,” Farmer said. “All we’re asking is put yourself first one day a year and get a checkup.”