One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime.
Although many studies show early detection is key in successful treatment, many women are unable to get checked because of barriers such as lack of health insurance and limited income, according to the state Department of Health.
In an effort to provide screenings to low-income women in the area, a state program held an event Saturday at PeaceHealth St. John Medical Center in Longview, where more than a dozen women got free clinical breast exams and mammograms.
“Prevention is key. When we catch it earlier, outcomes are much better,” said Kristine Groff, Breast, Cervical and Colon Health Program coordinator for PeaceHealth Southwest.
The Breast, Cervical and Colon Health Program offers free cancer screenings to eligible women and men. Patients may qualify if they are on a limited income and are uninsured or have limited insurance. The program also offers language interpreters.
The State Department of Health administers the program across Washington. It’s paid for by grants from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, state funding and the Susan G. Komen breast cancer foundation.
PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center operates the program for nine counties: Clark, Cowlitz, Skamania, Pacific, Wahkiakum, Lewis, Mason, Grays Harbor and Thurston.
The free screening event has been held at St. John for eight years and typically serves 16 to 20 patients, Groff said. The health program runs all year round. Groff said since July, 11 women enrolled in the program have been diagnosed with cancer.
“That’s 11 women who wouldn’t have gotten care without the program,” she said.
The program works with PeaceHealth’s Kearney Breast Center and Cowlitz Family Health Center to provide the exams and mammograms on the same day, Groff said.
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Family Health Center has participated in the event for the last four years. Adreia Jessop, doctor of nursing for Family Health Center, said the Saturday event is a nice way to reach those unable to make an appointment during the week.
“Everyone should have access to care,” she said. “Reducing the barriers we can is important.”
Jessop said along with limited income, the ability to take time off work and access to childcare are other barriers to preventative health care services like the cancer screenings.
Fear of the screening also stops some women from coming in, Jessop said. Some women are scared of being told they have cancer, she said. Jessop said she explains the exams and mammograms are a preventative health measure, and if the patient does have cancer, it’s better to catch it early.
Many women are also told that mammograms are painful, but that’s not the case, Jessop said.
“It’s not the tortuous process they may have heard about,” she said.
A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast. According to PeaceHealth, mammograms can detect changes in the breast that may be early signs of cancer but are too small to be felt. Mammography has increased doctors’ ability to detect breast cancers at earlier stages, according to the hospital.
Shena Hicks, PeaceHealth mammographer, said the machines have come a long way over the last several years. Although the machine still compresses the breast, it is more comfortable and faster than it use to be, she said.
The Breast, Cervical and Colon Health Program doesn’t stop with the mammogram, Groff said. It can provide patients with follow-up tests and help connect patients to resources to pay for treatment if they are diagnosed with cancer, she said.
“They’re never alone,” she said.