Women in the United States, on average, have a 1 in 8 chance of developing breast cancer in their lifetime, according to the American Cancer Society. In Michigan alone, more than 8,800 new cases of breast cancer will be diagnosed in 2020, while it is estimated that more than 1,380 people will die of the disease by the end of the year.

To help address the issue, the United Health Foundation is committing $2.5 million over three years to the Michigan Primary Care Association (MPCA) as part of an effort to increase breast cancer screening and genetic testing for high-risk women, men and their families. The partnership will establish a breast cancer genetic testing and screening pilot program at five Michigan community health centers with goals of increasing patient education and testing rates, and enhancing transitions of care through improved technology, community partnerships and data analysis. 

“Genetic testing in combination with genetic counselors and care managers has proven successful in the early detection and prevention of breast cancer,” said Dennis Mouras, chief executive officer, UnitedHealthcare Community Plan – Michigan. “Together with the Michigan Primary Care Association, we can help provide increased access to testing and screening to detect breast cancer earlier for better health outcomes.”

The partnership will also support staff training across the pilot sites, provide access to genetic counselors and care managers and enable partnerships with health systems to implement referrals and tracking of newly diagnosed patients.

“Annual screenings and routine preventive care are crucial to finding and diagnosing conditions including breast cancer,” said Dennis Litos, interim chief executive officer of the Michigan Primary Care Association. “We thank the United Health Foundation for its generous support in ensuring our community health centers can screen additional patients and save lives across Michigan.”

“One of the most crucial things we can do to prevent and treat breast cancer is raise awareness and expand access to health care, cancer screenings and genetic testing,” said Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer. “This partnership will make an enormous difference for Michiganders everywhere who have a history of cancer in their families. I am grateful to the United Health Foundation for its generous support and partnership with the Michigan Primary Care Association. I will continue to work closely with everyone who wants to protect and expand access to health care in our state.”

Continuing Care Amid the Pandemic

During the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, cancer screenings were among the many elective procedures placed on hold. Additionally, recent research in “Breast Cancer Research and Treatment” found that 44% of more than 600 breast cancer patients surveyed said they experienced delays in their treatment at the beginning of the pandemic, with routine or follow-up appointments being the most delayed type of care.

“Many routine and annual screening appointments have been delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Chief Medical Executive and Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Chief Deputy for Health Dr. Joneigh Khaldun. “As we observe Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October, it’s important to remember that while we must take precautions to stay safe amid the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s also crucial we seek important medical care and regular screenings that can detect cancer before symptoms appear.”