Screenings Teach People To Test For Cancer At Home

May 29, 1991|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,Staff writer

The new moles turning up on Paul Causey's skin turned out to be justpart of the natural aging process.

But he took advantage of a recent skin cancer screening to make sure the pigmentation was nothing more serious.

"My wife kind of pushed this a bit," said the 64-year-old retiredschoolteacher. "I had an older brother who did have some difficulty with skin melanoma."

Melanoma is a type of skin cancer. A family history of cancer, even if in just one member, is one of the reasons aperson should consider getting screened for a number of cancers thatare easy to detect and treat in early stages, said Linda Harder, vice president for marketing and public relations at Carroll County General Hospital.

Another major reason could be a person's age. For example, young men should get screened for testicular cancer, and middle-aged men should be screened for prostate cancer, she said.

Causey was one of 60 people who took advantage of a free skin-cancer screening CCGH offered earlier this month. Local dermatologists volunteered to take a look at any suspicious pigmentation or moles.

AlthoughCausey's mind was put at ease, four people left with instructions tosee their doctors for further testing for possible skin cancer, saidFrances G. Miller, community health education coordinator and a nurse at CCGH.

Ideally, a screening means people who come don't have symptoms, said Dr. Donald Coker, a Westminster surgical oncologist. But in reality, he said, some people who turn up at screenings actuallyhave lumps or pain or other symptoms of cancer, but had put off going to a doctor.

Reasons why people might not get around to a screening include expense, convenience or denial, said Miller.

"It's a combination of fear -- 'If I go have one done, they might find something,' -- and also the convenience," Miller said. "We're all so busy, we can't find the time to do something for our health."

Also, Harder said, cancers that affect the colon, prostate, testicles or breast may involve body parts and processes that some people would rather not talk about -- even to their doctors or spouses.

She said screenings, in addition to catching cancer signs, can educate the public.

Harder said many cancer screenings are part of a routine physical. In addition, she said, the hospital hopes to provide more free or low-cost screenings for testicular, prostate and cervical cancer.

"Cervical cancer is probably the best example of screening we have," Coker said. The test -- a Pap smear -- is safe, inexpensive at about $10 to $15, highly reliable and can be administered by a nurse practitioner at a routine gynecological appointment.

Also, when found early,cervical cancer is highly treatable by freezing the cervix, or, if necessary, a hysterectomy, Coker said.

Other cancers detectable early are:

* Breast cancer: A mammogram can detect cancer before a lump is felt, and women can learn to examine their own breasts monthly at home. Mammograms -- a type of X-ray -- are recommended for women starting at age 35 if they have a family history of breast cancer, andby age 40 for all women.

The cost for a mammogram at CCGH is morethan $100, including the radiologists fee for reading it. The woman may also have to pay for an office visit with her own physician, who will interpret the radiologists' findings and follow up with any care. The cost is covered by Medicare, Medicaid and some insurers.

* Colo-rectal cancer: The inexpensive blood-in-the-stool test used as the first stage of screening for cancer of the colon or rectum is somewhat controversial, Coker said.

The patient smears stool on a card over three days and sends the card to a gastroenterologist to view under a microscope. The test is to detect blood in the stool that can'tbe seen by the naked eye, Coker said.

The problem is that the test will miss half of all people with cancer, because only half of colo-rectal cancers bleed at first, he said. Also, he said, most people with blood in their stool won't have cancer, although the test can also detect other problems such as polyps that need attention, he said.

* Testicular cancer: Self-examination is the best screening, saidDr. Farhad Sateri, a Westminster urologist. Men are taught to feel for lumps or any changes, he said. He also teaches parents to check their boys, such as when bathing them. While most common among young men, this cancer can strike men into their 50s, he said.

Suspicious lumps can be tested further through ultrasound or other testing, he said.

Testicular cancer is 95 percent curable if detected early, Coker said. He said the U.S. Army, from which he just returned from reserve duty, is stressing self-examination for testicular cancer.

* Prostate cancer: Screening for this cancer is done through a rectal examination, through which a physician can feel any growth on the prostate. The cancer hits mostly men age 40 and older, Sateri said. Cokersaid symptoms can be confused with more-common but less-serious ailments that enlarge the prostate.

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