NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 27: Actress Gabrielle Union attends Planned Parenthood Action Fund's Playing Politics With Women's Health: The 2012 Election And Why It Matters at W Times Square on January 27, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images)

Actress Gabrielle Union is promoting the the newly expanded initiative Planned Parenthood is taking to combat breast cancer deaths in the United States. The new initiative seeks to increase the number of women screened for breast cancer and ease the costs involved. Yesterday a panel was held in New York City to discuss the new initiative and what it means for young women facing the risk of breast cancer.

Many women who go to Planned Parenthood for STI testing and treatment as well as birth control are encouraged to get a mammogram. If there is a question as to the results, they are encouraged to see a breast specialist. The new initiative also includes an assessment of breast cancer risk based on an algorithm used to identify women with higher risks of breast cancer. Those women could be steered toward enhanced screening services and genetic testing and counseling if appropriate.

[MSNBCMSN video=”http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/45977840″ id=”msnbc32f36c” w=”592″ h=”346″ launch_id=”48727488″]

The Think Like a Man actress’s breast cancer activism spawned with the diagnosis of her friend Kristen. Kristen felt a pain in her breast but ignored it for some time. When it was finally diagnosed, she had stage four breast cancer. Union told members of the panel what Kristen said to her a few months before she died.

“You have to combat this and you have to let people know that fear of the unknown will literally kill you, because it killed me… Don’t let there be anymore Kristen’s if you can help it,” said Union, quoting her friend.

Now, Union is working with Planned Parenthood to educate women on the importance of testing for breast cancer and catching the disease before it is too late.

Coleen Luther, a breast cancer survivor and Planned Parenthood patient, was also on the panel. Luther told her story of finding a lump in her breast. She called many places, but without a job or health insurance it was difficult for her to find a doctor. She was told that she needed a referral and the mammogram would cost $400, neither of which she had. Young and with no history of cancer in her family, Luther almost ignored the lump in her breast. It wasn’t until she decided to try Planned Parenthood that she received a mammogram, was referred to a specialist and then began treatment. All at little to no cost to her.

“There is no doubt in my mind that Planned Parenthood saved my life.” She told the panel amidst tears. “I would have just walked away … They took the lump seriously.”

Funding for the $3 million dollar package came from an “outpouring” of donations to Planned Parenthood following the Komen Foundation’s decision to end its breast health partnership with Planned Parenthood — widely seen as a response to political pressure from socially conservative donors, said Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. The current Planned Parenthood initiative uses those donations to expand breast health programs beyond those reinstated by the Komen Foundation.

Planned Parenthood will be closely partnered with the Lance Armstrong Foundation, to provide women diagnosed with breast cancer free bilingual services to help them navigate the maze of treatment, payment and logistical decisions they face.

“There is a notion that women and minorities are just crabs in a barrel,” Union told the panel in her final statement “…it doesn’t make you a bad person to put yourself first.”

Follow Similoluwa Ojurongbe on Twitter and simioju.com