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Harford’s Cancer Prevention Program seeks to get people screened to reduce number of cancer-related deaths | COMMENTARY

National Public Health Week was April 5 to April 11. This is the third in a series of articles about public health from the Harford County Health Department that will appear in The Aegis on Wednesdays in April.

Public health is about working to build healthy communities, which are created through the education and promotion of wholesome lifestyles. The Harford County Health Department is dedicated to serving the people of Harford County, and connecting citizens to the services they need to achieve those lifestyles.

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The Health Department’s Office of Cancer Prevention focuses on living healthfully through the promotion of regular cancer screenings. The program offers no-cost breast, cervical, colorectal and lung cancer screenings to eligible individuals. To be eligible, you must: Be a Maryland resident; meet age requirements; be uninsured or underinsured, with copays and deductibles; and meet income guidelines.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that cancer is the second-leading cause of death in Maryland, after heart disease. Over 10,000 people in Maryland die from cancer each year. The American Cancer Society estimates that 2,550 Marylanders will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer in 2021, and 1,050 Marylanders will die from the disease.

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The Cancer Prevention Program’s goal is to help get as many people screened as possible to reduce the number of deaths from cancer.

Regular cancer screenings have never been more important than right now. The COVID-19 pandemic has greatly affected cancer screening rates throughout the United States. The National Cancer Institute predicts almost 10,000 excess deaths in the United States from breast and colorectal cancer alone over the next 10 years because of pandemic-related delays in cancer-related care.

An estimated 41% of U.S. adults have delayed or avoided medical care because of the pandemic. This may result in advanced disease and early deaths.

Possible symptoms for colorectal cancer include blood in the stool, persistent pain in the lower abdomen, unexplained weight loss, constipation, or change in bowel habits. If these symptoms are present, a doctor should be contacted right away. Colorectal cancer does not always present symptoms, so getting a regular colonoscopy is the best way to prevent cancer or detect it early, when treatment and survival rates are high.

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Barriers to screening may include cost, transportation and education. Many people may not be able to afford screenings even with health insurance, due to out-of-pocket payments. The Cancer Prevention Program offers patient navigation services and education about screenings alongside assistance with payment, in hopes of reducing these barriers and answering any questions that arise.

If interested in the Harford County Health Department’s Cancer Prevention Program, call 410-942-7930 for more information, or submit your interest here.

Sarah Will is the community health educator for the Harford County Health Department.

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