Brinker: Expand qualified healthcare centers’ vital role in breast cancer care

Palm Beach Post – September 8, 2023


In public health, few issues are as critical and complex as breast cancer. A diagnosis of breast cancer can be devastating, yet early detection and comprehensive treatment can greatly improve outcomes and even save lives. This is where Federally Qualified Healthcare Centers (FQHCs) step in as a crucial player.

FQHCs, often located in medically underserved areas, have long been pillars of accessible healthcare for vulnerable populations across the United States. America is home to nearly 1,400 federally funded community health centers that provide critical, accessible, and affordable medical, dental, and behavioral health care to over 30 million Americans on an annual basis. Together, they serve as a vital safety net for those who might otherwise go without necessary medical attention.

With a focus on providing comprehensive care regardless of a patient’s ability to pay, FQHCs are uniquely positioned to tackle the disparities in breast cancer outcomes that disproportionately affect low-income, minority, and underserved communities. That’s why I, and our team at the Promise Fund of Florida, were so pleased to see President Biden recognize the importance of the FQHC network during National Health Center Week this month.
According to the American Cancer Society, breast cancer is the second most common cancer among women in the U.S., and it affects men as well. It is crucial that efforts are directed not only toward raising awareness but also toward ensuring equitable access to high-quality care, regardless of socioeconomic status or geographic location.

FQHCs offer several advantages in the fight against breast and cervical cancer:

  • Community-Centered Care: FQHCs are deeply embedded in their communities, allowing them to build trust and relationships that are essential in addressing the cultural, linguistic, and social determinants of health that can affect breast cancer prevention, diagnosis, and treatment.
  • Screening and Early Detection: FQHCs play a crucial role in increasing access to breast and cervical cancer screening and early detection. By offering mammograms, clinical breast exams, HPV vaccination, pap testing and life-saving information about self-examination, FQHCs help identify cases at earlier, more treatable stages.
  • Patient Navigation: The complex journey of a breast cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming. FQHCs often provide patient navigation services to guide individuals through the healthcare system, ensuring they receive the care they need in a timely manner.
  • Culturally Competent Care: FQHCs prioritize culturally competent care, recognizing the unique needs and sensitivities of diverse populations. This approach is particularly important in addressing disparities in breast cancer care and outcomes.
  • Preventive Services: Beyond diagnosis and treatment, FQHCs emphasize preventive services, which are critical for reducing the incidence of breast cancer. These services can include education about lifestyle factors, genetic risk, and strategies for reducing cancer risk.

However, to fully harness the potential of FQHCs in addressing breast cancer, several steps must be taken:

  • Funding and Resources: Adequate funding and resources must be allocated to FQHCs to ensure that they can provide high-quality breast cancer care, including screening, diagnosis, treatment, and survivorship support.
  • Collaboration and Partnerships: Collaboration between FQHCs, local hospitals, academic institutions, and community organizations can enhance the continuum of care for breast cancer patients, ensuring that they receive seamless and comprehensive services.
  • Health Information Technology: Investment in health information technology can help FQHCs streamline patient care, improve data collection, and enhance communication between different healthcare providers involved in a patient’s breast cancer journey.
  • Education and Training: Continuous education and training for healthcare professionals at FQHCs are crucial to ensure that they stay updated on the latest advancements in breast cancer care and can provide evidence-based, high-quality services.

In the fight against breast cancer, FQHCs represent a beacon of hope for underserved communities. Their community-oriented approach, comprehensive services, and commitment to equity make them invaluable allies in reducing breast cancer disparities and improving outcomes for all. By expanding their capacity and supporting their mission, we can take significant strides towards a future where no one’s breast cancer journey is hindered by lack of access to care.

Nancy Brinker is a former U.S. Ambassador and U.S. Chief of Protocol, Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient and founder of Susan G. Komen and The Promise Fund of Florida.