PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — The office of Gov. JB Pritzker and the state’s public health officials are using National Breast Cancer Awareness Month to urge people to get checked early.

Pritzker signed a proclamation declaring October as Breast Cancer Awareness Month and October 20 as Mammography Day in Illinois, according to his office.

However, the Illinois Department of Public Health urges residents not to wait and to schedule a comprehensive exam as soon as possible.

“Breast cancer has affected multiple members of my family and is a personal issue to me,” said IDPH Director Sameer Vohra. “I know how important mammograms are in detecting breast cancer early and saving lives. A sharp decrease in the number of mammograms administered during the COVID-19 pandemic has me concerned about more advanced, difficult to treat cases of breast cancer in Illinois.”

Data indicates persistent disparities in breast cancer and that more Black women die of breast cancer than any other racial or ethnic group. Risk factors for breast cancer can be controlled by being physically active, maintaining a healthy weight and limiting alcohol intake.

The breast cancer statistics are stark:

  • Breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in women 20 to 59.
  • One in eight women in the U.S. will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime.
  • A woman is diagnosed with breast cancer in the U.S. every two minutes.
  • In Illinois, 10,500 women are diagnosed with breast cancer every year.

For those who are uninsured or underinsured, IDPH operates the Illinois Breast and Cervical Cancer Program (IBCCP) which offers free breast exams and mammograms. The program also assists with treatment options.

To enroll in IBCCP, call the Women’s Health Line 888-522-1282 (800-547-0466 TTY). The Women’s Health Line will be able to walk women through the eligibility requirements and the screening process.

Since the inception of the IBCCP in 1995, the program has performed more than 822,000 screenings for more than 351,000 women. In the most recent full year, state fiscal year 2023, the program performed 14,757 breast cancer screenings and 5,321 cervical cancer screenings.

Women also can contact their local IBCCP agency and schedule an appointment.

For more information about the importance of regular screening for breast cancer, see this video presentation from IDPH.