Early detection of breast cancer can save lives

Published 3:58 pm Friday, October 25, 2013

Breast cancer is brought to the forefront of health topics during October since it is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, but people are advised to stay aware of the disease all year long.

Early detection of breast cancer can save lives and does not have to cost thousands of dollars.

The Alabama Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program (ABCCEDP) provides free breast and cervical cancer screenings for women who meet eligibility guidelines, according to information from the Alabama Department of Public Health website.

Eligibility guidelines for free services include: Women ages 40–64; women who have an income at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty guidelines (link available at Adph.org/earlydetection); and women without insurance or who are underinsured.

Services include a pelvic exam, Pap smear, clinical breast exam, mammogram and diagnostic services such as an ultrasound, colposcopy or biopsy, if needed.

The Chilton County Health Department provides free breast exams for local residents who are eligible, as well as out-of-county mammogram referrals.

Before it closed, Chilton Medical Center provided mammograms for local residents.

“We can get them free mammograms, but they have to come in for a breast exam first,” CCHD Clinic Supervisor Ludean Hicks said. “If they find a lump or something, of course they can call us and we can check it for them, but we can’t provide them any free mammograms until they’re 40.”

Hicks said the Chilton County Health Department normally refers patients to Shelby Baptist Hospital for mammograms.

“If they have Blue Cross [Blue Shield] or something like that, they would probably have to go to their own doctor,” Hicks said. “This is just for women who don’t have any financial resources to get a mammogram.”

Hicks said her clinic sees about four or five patients a week—sometimes 20–25 a month— for breast and cervical exams.

Patients who come in for breast and cervical cancer screenings are also given educational materials including how to perform breast self checks and detect changes that could indicate breast cancer.

“We show them how to check their own breasts so they’ll know if there’s something different there and they’ll get them checked out,” Hicks said. “We have brochures and information on breast cancer and self breast exams. We also teach the young women that come here how to check their own breasts and how often to check them.”

Hicks recommends for women to begin having breast exams earlier than age 40, particularly if any of their immediate family members (mother, grandmother, aunt, sister, etc.) have been diagnosed with breast cancer in their 30s or 40s.

“It’s really important for women from age 20 on up to start getting their breast exams, especially if they have a history of breast cancer in their families,” she said. “It’s really important to do those self checks and maybe start [mammograms] at age 35.”

Hicks added recent studies have linked smoking to increased risk for developing breast cancer.

Hicks said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends breast self exams at least once a month.

“If they check [their breasts] all the time and something is different there, they’ll know it,” Hicks said. “I know it’s kind of hard to remember sometimes to check your own breasts, but it’s a good idea, especially if you have a history of breast cancer in your family.”

According to the ADPH website, since the early detection program’s beginning in 1996: 83,753 women have been screened; 129,290 clinical breast exams have been conducted; 111,362 mammograms have been conducted; 73,248 Pap smears have been conducted; 1,625 cases of breast cancer have been detected; and 390 cases of cervical cancers have been detected.

In the last grant year: 12,329 women have been screened; 10,255 clinical breast exams have been conducted; 9,944 mammograms have been conducted; 4,437 Pap smears have been conducted; 137 cases of breast cancer have been detected; and 16 cases of cervical cancer have been detected.

“We have found a lot of breast cancer here just from our clinic, so it’s important,” Hicks said. “Those women—nobody knows what the outcome might have been if they hadn’t come here and gotten their exams and mammograms and caught it early enough. They’re all living, and we’re glad of that.”

To make an appointment for breast and cervical cancer screening services, call the Chilton County Health Department at (205) 755-8407.