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Bipartisan bill would boost cancer screening resources in Oregon



COURTESY PHOTO - On Jan. 1, the state of Washington unveiled its own cancer awareness license plate, and state Rep. Susan McLain wants to bring the concept to Oregon as well.The battle against cancer is very personal to state Rep. Susan McLain. McLain’s husband, Cliff, died of cancer in 2009, and she has an aunt who survived breast cancer.

Recognizing that early detection of cancers saves lives, McLain, a Forest Grove Democrat, has joined with Bill Kennemer, an Oregon City Republican, to introduce legislation — House Bill 3232 — that would create a new specialty license plate to help in the cancer fight.

The bill is currently under consideration by the Legislature’s Transportation & Economic Development Committee, on which McLain serves.

Money from sale of the “Breast Cancer Awareness” license plate would go to support early detection and prevention programs for breast and cervical cancers.

“Early detection is critical,” McLain said March 27. “Funds from the specialty license plates would go to Oregon Health Authority for women who are at poverty level or are low income and don’t have that insurance coverage.”

Currently, approximately 5,000 low income or uninsured Oregonians obtain services through a treatment program administered by the Oregon Health Authority.

The cancer awareness license plate program would be administered through the Oregon Department of Motor Vehicles. Proceeds from sales would be appropriated to the Oregon Health Authority to go toward programs focused on early detection of cancers.

“I really wanted to work on this. It’s really exciting,” McLain said. “This has the potential to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for the cause.”

McLain is optimistic the bill will move forward, but it’s not a sure thing.

“There is fierce competition for new plates,” she said.

McLain explained current rules stipulate that the state can have only five specialty plates at any time. There are already five available for vehicle owners to purchase, and two other new ones are also under consideration: One to support the Portland Trail Blazers professional basketball team and another to support the Marine Research Center in Newport.

However, McLain pointed out that the Legislature can vote to expand the number of plates available.

In any case, McLain believes a plate that helps save lives would be given priority if there is a choice to be made. She said the impact on human lives is immeasurable, and mentioned what early detection has meant in her own family.

“One of the reasons my aunt is still alive at 82 is because she had early detection of breast cancer,” McLain said.

“I suspect this might well be one of the most successful license plates out there,” added Kennemer, who lost his first wife to breast cancer. “I don’t suspect any of us haven’t been touched very closely or indirectly with this.”

Margaret Riggs Klein, director of programs and operations for Susan G. Komen Oregon & Southwest Washington, a nonprofit organization that focuses on breast cancer research and support, said her organization is very supportive of HB 3232.

“We were thrilled to see the bill come forward,” Klein said. “It will increase awareness of breast cancer and the importance of early detection, and a portion of the funds raised will go toward screening services.”

The Susan G. Komen Foundation and the American Cancer Society sent representatives to testify in support of the bill during a March 23 public hearing in Salem on the proposed legislation.

“We joined forces in support of this bill,” Klein said. “I participated in the legislative hearing on behalf of Susan G. Komen, and I felt the committee was very engaged and interested in our testimony.”

According to the American Cancer Society, breast cancer is the most frequently diagnosed form of cancer among women — and Oregon has one of the highest rates of breast cancer in the United States. To show the critical importance of cancer screening, the American Cancer Society statistics show that with early diagnosis and treatment, the survival rate for women can be as high as 90 percent. But in cases when there is no early screening, the survival rate for women in the United States who have been diagnosed with breast cancer drops to 70 percent.

McLain said the idea for the plate came thanks to public input.

“A citizen brought the idea forward,” McLain said. “She pointed out that the state of Washington has this type of plate, and Oregon should have one as well.”

Washington’s breast-cancer plate first became available in January 2015. The license plate displays a pink ribbon with the slogan, “Early Detection Saves Lives,” with proceeds going to support free breast cancer screening services.

Klein pointed out that only 74 percent of women in Oregon are currently being screened for breast cancer. She said those not being screened need to be educated about the need to do so and have access to the resources that make screenings available. She noted that the license plate would help in both categories.

“Every week in the state of Oregon, 70 women will hear the words, ‘You have breast cancer,’” Klein said. “And in that same week, another 10 women will die. Multiply that by 52 weeks, and those numbers start to add up.”

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