Federal grant allows Moffitt to provide free health screenings

With the help of the H. Lee Moffitt Center and Cancer Research Institute and three county health departments, more high-risk women are finding it easier to detect breast and cervical cancer before it’s too late.

A federal grant provided by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control has allowed Moffitt to work in conjunction with Hillsborough, Polk and Highlands counties to provide free screening procedures for breast and cervical cancer to underserved women in the community, said Carol Roberts, the Human Services Program Manager at the Hillsborough County Health Department.

In this screening program, Moffitt’s Lifetime Cancer Screening and Diagnostic Center provides mobile buses that go to different areas in the community to provide mammograms, breast exams and Pap smears for underserved women.

The women who qualify for this program are those who are 50 to 64 years old, are at or below the federal poverty level and have no insurance or anything that pays for the screenings already.

Roberts added that many of these underserved women have financial problems, travel issues or feel uncomfortable going out of their community to receive screening procedures.

The mobile units provided by Moffitt come with all the equipment and staff needed to provide the breast and cervical cancer screenings, said Elissa Clayton, a Nurse Practitioner and Clinic Manager at Moffitt’s Lifetime Center.

Clayton said if abnormalities are found during the screening procedures, such as a lump, then the patients are sent to Moffitt’s Lifetime Center to undergo diagnostic treatments.

“It’s not just the ability to screen women, but it’s having resources in place in the community in the event a woman needs diagnostic testing or cancer treatment. In order to be a provider with this program, you have to be able to see these women all the way through,” Clayton said.

The overall goals of this program are to help women catch breast and cervical cancer in their early stages as well as to educate women about the preventative screening procedures available to them, said Clayton.

The grant provided by the CDC is based on a statewide goal that a total of 21 counties must reach in order to be provided with future funding, Roberts said. The counties involved in the program are chosen by the Florida Department of Health in Tallahassee. The main goal is divided between counties in order to determine what the target number of women to be screened will be for each county. Out of the three counties involved in the Tampa Bay area, Hillsborough is the lead county, Roberts said.

“We have Polk, Highlands and Hardee counties as our three counties that we help along and their goals are included in our overall goal. We also have an agreement with Pasco County in which any client can come to Hillsborough for screening if they choose,” Roberts said.

So far, the yearly targets set for Hillsborough County have been met on a regular occurrence, Roberts said.

“Every year since 2001 we have gone up steadily. We have gone up from 202 clients to 415 to 582 to 630 and then 725 this year for mammograms,” Roberts said. “This is also the first year we have met our Pap smear goals.”

The reason that Pap smear targets have not been met in the past, Roberts said, is due to the fact that many women have either already had one recently or had a hysterectomy.

Although the future of the program is based on the counties involved meeting or exceeding their targets, all the parties involved hope to see the program expanded to include more providers, as well as younger women who are at high risk of developing breast or cervical cancer.

“The more local providers of diagnostic and treatment services you have for women, in the long run, is the best for them,” Clayton said. “If your undergoing cancer treatment, you need support from your family and friends and it’s so much easier to get it if you stay local.

Daniel Haight of the Polk County Health Department said it is important that young women get the tests done.

“Some of the recommendations for breast cancer screening are at lower ages, so we hope to see the eligibility for women to get mammograms to be lowered. What happens if you’re 23 and you have a lump in your breast?” Haight asked.