Press Release

August 24, 2006

Blagojevich Administration awards Penny Severns Breast, Cervical and Ovarian Cancer grants to SIU School of Medicine

 Illinois Breast and Cervical Cancer Program also expanding to help in the fight against cancer

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – On behalf of Governor Rod R. Blagojevich, Dr. Eric E. Whitaker, state public health director, today announced Penny Severns Breast, Cervical and Ovarian Cancer Research Fund grants to the Southern Illinois University (SIU) School of Medicine for two research projects. Each grant totals $65,000 and will be used to advance cancer research. Penny Severns grants this year total $700,000 statewide.

Earlier this year, on Mother’s Day, Governor Blagojevich announced the expansion of Illinois’ program to help uninsured women get access to screening and treatment for breast and cervical cancer. The plan expanded the income threshold for the Illinois Breast and Cervical Cancer Program (IBCCP), enabling thousands more women to get free cancer screenings and treatment.

“More than 2,500 mothers, sisters and daughters die each year in Illinois from breast, cervical and ovarian cancer. It’s critical that we continue to research new ways to treat or even someday cure cancer. The Penny Severns Breast, Cervical and Ovarian Cancer Research Fund helps researchers develop and advance techniques for early detection, prevention, curing, screening and treatment of breast, cervical and ovarian cancers,” said Gov. Blagojevich.

The latest statistics show that 9,413 women in Illinois were diagnosed with breast, cervical or ovarian cancer in 2003. 2,684 women in Illinois died from these cancers that same year. It is projected that almost 10,000 women in Illinois will be diagnosed with breast, cervical or ovarian this year and it is estimated approximately 2,800 women will die.

“Better methods for early detection and more effective treatments for cancer are key to reducing the number of deaths due to breast, cervical and ovarian cancer,” said Dr. Whitaker. “I’m honored to be awarding these grants, funded in part through Illinois taxpayer donations, to the SIU School of Medicine to two researchers committed to advancing the fight against cancer.”

SIU School of Medicine researchers, Krishna Rao, M.D., Ph.D. and Stuart Adler, M.D., Ph.D., are two of 12 Illinois researchers who are part of institutions receiving Penny Severns Breast, Cervical and Ovarian Cancer Research Grants to conduct breast, cervical and ovarian cancer research.

Dr. Krishna Rao, Ph.D. received $65,000 through a Penny Severns grant to SIU School of Medicine for continued research into the role of a specific protein in order to improve treatment options for breast cancer.

“The Penny Severns research award is a key component in continuing this mission. The generous funding will allow my laboratory to study rab25, a novel protein that appears to be important in suppressing the growth and spread of breast cancer. My laboratory is deeply appreciative of the trust placed in us by Governor Blagojevich and the Illinois Department of Public Health as we move forward to make incurable breast cancer a distant memory. We strongly applaud IDPH in its efforts to continue funding for this vital area,” said Dr. Rao. “It is the memory of all the individuals afflicted with breast cancer that motivates researchers like me to study breast cancer so that one day it may become a highly curable disease.”

Dr. Stuart Adler, Ph.D., an SIU School of Medicine researcher in Carbondale, was awarded $65,000 to research and explain, at a molecular level, the health benefits and anti-breast cancer effects of soy diets and to help develop new ways to prevent and treat cancers.

“Receiving a Penny Severns research award, is not only an honor, but also provides the rare opportunity to explore very new and exciting research ideas,” said Dr. Adler. “Our plans are ambitious, but they are inspired by the hopes and urgent needs of patients and families in Illinois and beyond to advance knowledge and to hasten the development of the new treatments, preventions and cures we all desire.”

This research fund was established in 1994 and renamed in 1999 to honor the late state Sen. Penny Severns of Decatur, who died from breast cancer. Governor Rod R. Blagojevich added ovarian cancer in the summer of 2005 to the program’s mission and changed the fund name again to the Penny Severns Breast, Cervical and Ovarian Cancer Research Fund. The research fund is a special fund within the state treasury that is used for breast, cervical and ovarian cancer research grants. Revenue sources include general revenue funds, income tax contributions and gifts, as well as grants and awards from private foundations, nonprofit organizations and other governmental entities or persons.

Grants are awarded to support research in areas related to breast, cervical and ovarian cancer prevention, etiology, pathogenesis, early detection, treatment and behavioral sciences. Research also may include clinical trials. Grant awards range from $35,000 to $65,000.

Since fiscal year 1995, the Penny Severns Research Fund has financially supported 121 research projects.

Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer among American women and a major cause of early death.

The Illinois Breast and Cervical Cancer Program (IBCCP), administered through the Illinois Department of Public Health, is helping to fight the battle against breast cancer by providing free screenings to lower income women between the ages of 35 and 64 who have no health insurance. Beginning September 1, 2006, IBCCP will screen and treat more Illinois women. Currently IBCCP offers mammograms, breast exams, pelvic exams and Pap tests to women at or below 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) ($40,000 for a family of 4). The Governor’s expansion raises the income threshold to 250 percent of the FPL ($50,000 for a family of 4).

To be eligible, a woman must b e uninsured and between the ages of 40 and 64 for mammograms and breast exams, and between 35 and 64 for pelvic exams and Pap tests. On a case-by-case basis, younger, symptomatic women who meet the financial and insurance guidelines are considered for the program. Since the program was launched in Illinois in 1995, approximately 150,000 breast and cervical screenings have been provided.

Currently, if a woman is eligible for IBCCP but is diagnosed with breast or cervical cancer outside of the program, then she is not eligible for treatment. The Governor’s expansion allows women who meet IBCCP eligibility requirements, but are diagnosed outside the current IBCCP sites, to go straight into the free treatment program. This gives women more choices and also avoids penalizing women who did not know about the program but who were screened and diagnosed by their doctor, community health center or other health care facility.

Approximately 425 Illinois women a month are receiving treatment as a result of IBCCP referrals. With the expansion of eligible women into IBCCP and the entry of more women from other providers into the Treatment Act services, the number of women receiving treatment is expected to double.

An October 2005 study by the Cancer Intervention and Surveillance Modeling Network Collaborators estimated that breast cancer screening reduced the rate of death from breast cancer by up to 23 percent, and found that treatment is likely to be more effective if cancer is detected at an earlier stage.

Women can find out how to get breast and cervical cancer screening and treatment by calling the Women’s Health-Line at 888-522-1282 or for TTY (hearing impaired use only), 800-547-0466. Information on IBCCP and other women’s health and programs can also be found on the IDPH website,


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Illinois Department of Public Health
535 West Jefferson Street
Springfield, Illinois 62761
Phone 217-782-4977
Fax 217-782-3987
TTY 800-547-0466
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