In Central Louisiana, the cancer rate is similar to that of the rest of the nation, but the cancer death rate is higher. So why are local residents more likely to die from their cancers? A deeper look reveals the reason.
Central Louisiana has a lower rate of cancer screening than other parts of the state and nation. That means residents aren’t getting screened regularly, so their cancers aren’t being detected as early. Early detection increases a person’s chances of survival.
In 2008, The Rapides Foundation developed the Cancer Screening Project to improve cancer screening rates in Central Louisiana parishes. The project, administered under the Foundation’s Cenla Medication Access Program, targets breast, cervical and colorectal cancers.
Since the project was started, more than 200 women in Central Louisiana have had free mammograms on a mobile screening van. Others have been able to get long-overdue Pap smears and pelvic exams. In addition, more than 200 women and men have been given take-home kits that check for colorectal cancer.
“We learned that many people, especially those who live in rural areas, weren’t getting their cancer checkups for a number of reasons. They didn’t have insurance and couldn’t afford the tests. They couldn’t take the time off from work to go to their doctors. They were afraid of what the tests would show,” said Joe Rosier, president and CEO of The Rapides Foundation.
The Foundation recognized these obstacles and came up with ways to address each of them, all with the goal of getting more and more people screened.
A partnership with the Feist-Weiller Cancer Center at LSU Health Sciences Center-Shreveport allowed the Foundation to take cancer screenings directly to the people – literally – by way of a mobile cancer screening van. The van may look like a motor home on the outside, but in the inside, it’s a medical clinic where patients can get digital mammograms, Pap smears and pelvic exams.
The van was already being used in North Louisiana. When Dr. Jerry McLarty, director of cancer prevention and control at Feist-Weiller, heard about the Cancer Screening Project, he contacted the Foundation. “We had this vehicle and I was looking for support. It was a good match,” he said. “Screening is the key to saving lives and reducing morbidity to cancer.”
The Foundation in early 2010 formed a partnership with the LSU Family Medicine Residency in Alexandria, which provides the physicians who perform the Pap smears, pelvic exams and clinical breast exams on female patients. It also gives the resident physicians additional experience with patients. “This project is making a great impact,” said Dr. Heather Guillot, Assistant Professor of Clinical Family Medicine at the LSU Family Medicine Residency in Alexandria. Increasing a woman’s accessibility to cancer screenings greatly improves her chances of survival if diagnosed with cancer.
The van makes stops in Central Louisiana parishes four times a month. Appointments are necessary.
With so many residents putting off these vital tests, it became apparent that lack of money or health insurance wasn’t the only thing keeping people from getting tested. For that reason, the Cancer Screening Project is hoping to raise general awareness about the importance of cancer screenings.
“If you have insurance, we urge you to contact your doctor and get these screens scheduled,” Rosier said. “These tests are not as demanding and time-consuming as you think, and they just may save your life.”