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Early detection key in preventing death

Experts say 30 to 40 percent of breast cancer deaths can be prevented with early detection. For each of the past five years, workers at the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute’s Avon Program have served the community by educating women about the No. 1 killer among those ages 40 to 55.

Last year, their work paid off. Nine women out of 1,000 screened were diagnosed with breast cancer in its early stages. Doctors say those women will now have a better chance at beating the disease, which affects thousands in Hillsborough County alone.

“The overall goal is to provide breast health care education and mammogram clinical breast exams to underserved rural Hispanic farm workers and other low-income women,” said Marlene Rivera, coordinator of the Avon Program at Moffitt.

The program receives funding through yearly grants from the Avon Breast Care Fund.

In January, a $100,000 grant was awarded to assist Moffitt in its ongoing community outreach, said Cathy Meade, director of education at Moffitt.

According to the Avon Company Web site, the Avon Breast Care Fund is part of the U.S.-based Avon Breast Cancer Crusade that was founded in 1993. The program’s mission focuses on meeting the needs of medically underserved women. Moffitt was chosen as one of the 135 grant recipients awarded in 2003.

Rivera said the grant helps support program expenses such as salaries and health fairs. However, Moffitt still directly supports the breast screening and treatments. When cancer is found, the Moffitt team works with community partners in order to provide treatment to uninsured patients.

Meade said an interdisciplinary team of nurses, mammography technicians, researchers, educators and bilingual contributors play prominent roles in the community effort of health and awareness.

In the mobile van, a mammogram technician and registered nurse provide the screening, breast exam and breast health education.

“Part of the program is to deliver health care in a sensitive manner and relevant way,” said Meade of the bilingual staff.

Meade said the addition of a bilingual staff has helped reach even more women.

“The most important thing is to reach women with unique strategies,” Rivera said.

Rivera said offering peer support in a language they can relate to helps serve the rural Hispanic farmers. She said traveling directly to their location helps those who have limited transportation.

Throughout the year, Moffitt workers travel to clinics and health fairs to offer their support. Twice a month, the outreach team goes to Suncoast Community Health Center clinics located in Ruskin, Plant City and Dover. Meade said the team attends health fairs several times a year by networking with community agencies.

“This (program) is done in a collaborative way with the lifetime partners and the screeners at Moffitt,” Meade said.

The Moffitt partnership with the Center for Disease Control Breast and Cervical Cancer Program allows the staff to provide care for low-income patients.

“One of the things we are doing this year that we have not done in the past is targeting low-income Medicare for the elderly,” Rivera said.

Meade, who has worked at Moffitt for seven years, said each year improvements are made in the program by the additional collaboration of community partners.

In 2001, 845 women were screened. That number increased to 1,015 in 2002.

“The ultimate goal is to reach women and save lives,” Meade said.