New program aimed at colorectal cancer

Tobacco settlement funds used for screenings that diagnosed Essex woman

October 15, 2001|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,SUN STAFF

For weeks after she noticed the first symptoms - bleeding and abdominal pain - Agnes G. Turpin, poor and uninsured, didn't go to the doctor.

When the pain got to be too much, the Essex resident went to a hospital and then a clinic, where they told her she needed a colonoscopy but wouldn't give her the cancer screening test because she had no insurance.

While his wife was with the doctor at the clinic, Broderick M. Turpin was looking through reading material in the waiting room. A green pamphlet with the word "cancer" on it caught his eye, and he took it home.

The pamphlet described the Baltimore County Colorectal Cancer Awareness Program, funded through Maryland's share of the national tobacco settlement.

The American Cancer Society has estimated that there will be 135,400 new U.S. cases of colorectal cancer diagnosed this year and that it will cause about 56,700 deaths. Because it is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the state and easily treatable if detected early, the state has encouraged counties to begin screening programs, said Dr. Georges C. Benjamin, secretary of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Baltimore County has screened 86 patients since the program began six months ago, but Agnes Turpin, 54, is the first to be diagnosed with colon cancer and treated, county officials said last week at a news conference highlighting the program.

When he and his wife got home from the clinic that had turned them away, Broderick Turpin read the pamphlet and called the county. People with colorectal cancer often don't have symptoms. Agnes Turpin did, so the county put her on a fast track for tests. She had a colonoscopy, which found signs of cancer.

"It was shocking," she said. "It tore me right up."

She had surgery six days later. The doctor was able to remove all the cancerous cells, and Turpin has not had to undergo chemotherapy or radiation treatments. Her prognosis looks good, said Dr. Michelle Leverett, director of the county's Department of Health.

"Without this program, me and my wife would not be able to stand here and say how much we appreciate it," Broderick Turpin said.

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