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Free screenings can help detect, deter cervical, breast cancer

Published on Wednesday, May 1, 2019

By: Cynthia Wall,

The University of Mississippi Medical Center is joining several community partners to repeat a successful cancer screening first offered in 2017.

The See, Test and Treat Program offers free mammograms and cervical cancer screenings to women who qualify. Those screenings, along with an oral exam, will be part of a package offered June 1 at the UMMC Cancer Center and Research Institute clinics at the Jackson Medical Mall Thad Cochran Center.

The free screenings, available for uninsured and underinsured women, are funded by a College of American Pathologists Foundation grant.

Portrait of Dr. Timothy Allen

Dr. Timothy Allen, UMMC professor and chair of pathology who received the CAP Foundation award, said a key to the screening’s success is the cooperative effort that enables women to receive their results on the same day and to be immediately referred for additional testing or treatment, if needed.

“Screening is the best way of detecting early stage cancer and pre-cancerous lesions so we can act early,” Allen said.

Women with dysplasia, or precancerous cervical lesions, can be treated before the lesions become malignant. Finding cancer before symptoms appear gives women more treatment options with the opportunity for better results.

“Mississippi has a great need for improving screening,” Allen said.

According to the Mississippi Cancer Registry, 139 women were diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2016, the latest year for which verified numbers are available. That year, 55 women died of cervical cancer. In 2016, 2,655 women were diagnosed with breast cancer, and 440 women died of breast cancer.

U.S. Cancer Statistics indicate that for every 100,000 women in the U.S., eight new cervical cancer cases were reported in 2015 and two women died of cervical cancer. In Mississippi, the cervical cancer incidence rate was 9.1, and the mortality rate was 3.3.

For breast cancer, the incidence rate was 125 per 100,000 women nationally and the mortality rate was 20 per 100,000. In Mississippi, the incidence rate was 117 per 100,000 women and the mortality rate was 22 per 100,000.

The numbers are personal for Tomeka Harps of Brandon, who participated in the first See, Test and Treat screening in 2017. Diagnosed with Stage 3 cervical cancer, she received treatment; today, she says she is cancer-free.

Now she spends her free time encouraging other women to be screened.

“I’m still pushing women to go to their doctor,” Harps said. “Most of the time, I tell them my story. Some tell me their fears and I try to brighten their day and give them some type of encouragement.”

Harps said she knows those fears well. She delayed registering for See, Test and Treat screening until she was encouraged to do so by her congregational nurse.

Allen echoes that encouragement.

“I understand denial and fear of finding out what’s going on,” he said. “It’s better to deal with this early, otherwise it could be difficult to treat or deadly.

”Cancer is a scary word. We can’t let this freeze us. We have to act.”

The See, Test and Treat event will include screenings that abide by national guidelines:

* Breast screenings for all women and mammograms for those who qualify: women between 40 and 64 who have not had a mammogram within the past year; have no visible lumps or lesions; have no breast implants; and are not pregnant or breastfeeding.

* Pap tests for cervical cancer for women between 21 and 64 who have never had a Pap test before or have not had one in the past three years and have not had abnormal Pap test results.

* Dental exams by UMMC School of Dentistry representatives for all women.

Women coming to the See, Test and Treat screenings for mammograms or Pap tests will be enrolled in the Mississippi State Department of Health Breast and Cervical Cancer Screening Program in the event their results indicate a diagnostic test or cancer therapy is needed. Women who get dental exams will be referred to the UMMC School of Dentistry or a comprehensive health center for follow-up, if needed.

One unique aspect of the See, Test and Treat screening is that participants receive their results on the same day. A nurse or pathologist will explain what was found and if any further testing is needed.

The Pap test results can take about two hours to complete. While they are waiting, many women may attend one of two food demonstrations by noted chef Nick Wallace, who is famous for using locally grown products in fresh and imaginative ways.

The event also will offer three fitness demonstrations and general health care or screening information at tables sponsored by area cancer organizations or other health professionals. A light lunch and limited child care also will be provided.

To determine eligibility and to set up an appointment, call (601) 815-3572.

The above article appears in CONSULT, UMMC’s monthly e-newsletter sharing news about cutting-edge clinical and health science education advances and innovative biomedical research at the Medical Center and giving you tips and suggestions on how you and the people you love can live a healthier life. Click here and enter your email address to receive CONSULT free of charge. You may cancel at any time.