Breast cancer testing offered Health department now screens women younger than 50, too


Carroll County health officials hope to encourage more women, particularly those over 50, to take advantage of health department programs offering free mammograms during National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which began Tuesday.

"With each decade of life, our chances of developing breast cancer increase, but the older women seem to be a harder group to reach," said Judy Trickett, a health department nurse and coordinator of the department's 4-year-old breast and cervical cancer screening program for women older than 50.

Trickett wants to spread the word about a new program in which women younger than 50 who meet income eligibility requirements can receive a free mammogram at Carroll County General Hospital in Westminster.

Cheryl Ann Jones, a health department outreach worker and eight-year breast cancer survivor, accompanies the women to the mammogram procedure as part of the program.

"Early detection is the key," said Jones, 51, of Eldersburg. "In my case, it was found so early that I didn't need any chemotherapy or radiation."

This month, Jones and other health department outreach workers plan to set up information booths at malls, shopping centers and fall festivals around the county to talk to women about the importance of early detection, how to do breast self-examinations and the free mammogram services.

"We're trying to reach out to as many people as we can," Jones said.

Since 1992, the health department has screened 800 county women older than 50 for breast and cervical cancer through a statewide program, but Trickett said as many as 5,000 local women are eligible for the free testing. More than 30 private doctors participate in the program and tests have found 12 cases of breast cancer and one case of cervical cancer.

"We've done a good job of getting women who are somewhat self-motivated," Trickett said. "Now we need to reach women who need more encouragement, and educate them on how important it is."

As a woman ages, the risk of breast cancer increases. At age 30, one in 233 women has a chance of developing breast cancer; at age 70, the risk factor is one in 24, Trickett said. The American Cancer Society recommends that women ages 40 to 49 have a mammogram every one or two years and that women older than 50 have an annual mammogram.

Women avoid having mammograms for a variety of reasons. Some mistakenly believe they're not at risk for breast cancer if no family members had the disease. Others don't want to know if they have cancer, for fear of not being able to handle the discovery, and some women believe that mammograms are painful and have dangerous amounts of radiation.

Trickett said mammograms have less radiation than a dental X-ray, and she noted that the procedure "won't be comfortable, but it won't be something that's painful."

In May, the health department began offering free mammograms to women younger than 50 through a cooperative arrangement with Carroll County General Hospital. The program is funded by a $17,000 grant from the Susan G. Komen Foundation, a national organization that works through local chapters to raise money for breast cancer research, education and treatment.

Jones, the program's outreach worker, uses her experience with cancer to educate women about diagnosis and treatment, and to let them know that it's possible to survive the disease. She learned of her cancer in 1988, when a mammogram identified the disease at an early stage.

"I didn't have a lump at all," Jones said. "If it hadn't been for the mammogram, I wouldn't be here today."

Jones chose to have a double mastectomy and breast reconstruction instead of the localized removal of a tumor, called a lumpectomy. The history of breast cancer in her family led Jones to choose the mastectomies to reduce the chances of recurrence. Her grandmothers had breast cancer and her mother and uncle died of the disease.

In her role as an outreach worker, Jones meets women at the hospital for their mammogram. Before or after the procedure, she tries to answer their questions relating to the mammogram or breast cancer in general.

Both health department breast cancer screening programs use the same income guidelines to determine eligibility for the free mammograms. The household income for a woman living alone cannot exceed $19,350; the cutoff for a family of two is $25,900; and the income for a family of four cannot be greater than $39,000. The approximate price of a mammogram is $70 to $130, Trickett said.

If a test shows abnormal or positive results, a state program will pay for additional diagnostic tests and treatments that are required, provided the patient meets income eligibility guidelines, Trickett said.

Women who don't meet income guidelines for mammogram testing may register for a mammogram with Maryland General Hospital's mobile testing van, which visits senior centers and nursing homes and charges about $70 for the test. The van will be at Taneytown Senior Center on Nov. 5.

To register for mammograms through the health department's screening programs or to make an appointment with Maryland General Hospital's van, call 876-4423.

Pub Date: 10/03/96

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