Officials launch cancer program

Free screenings to be offered to city residents

November 14, 2001|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

Health officials launched a program yesterday to offer free cancer screenings to up to 20,000 Baltimore residents a year, using money from the state's settlement of a lawsuit against the tobacco industry.

During an opening ceremony at a health clinic in Park Heights, Dr. Janet Yellowitz gave an oral-cancer screening to state Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden, shining a flashlight into the crevices between his cheeks and gums and probing his neck with the tips of her fingers.

"Cancer is the second-leading cause of death in the state, and among African-American men over 30, it is the leading cause of death," said Dr. Georges Benjamin, the state health secretary. "A lot of people think that getting cancer is a death sentence, but it need not be if it's caught early enough through screening."

The state and city plan to work with doctors from the University of Maryland Medical System and Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions to examine people for prostate, oral, breast and other cancers at the Park Heights Community Health Alliance, 3901 Park Heights Ave., and eight other clinics.

The project will cost $2.8 million this year, with similar amounts planned to keep it running for the next decade. The money comes from the $150 million a year the state receives from tobacco companies as part of a settlement of a 1996 lawsuit to recover the money taxpayers spend treating smokers under the Medicaid program.

A total of $35 million is being spent on cancer screening programs statewide, with many counties using the money to launch free screening programs for colon cancer.

Baltimore decided to focus on early detection of prostate, breast, oral and cervical cancers because these have a disproportionate impact on African-Americans, said City Health Commissioner Dr. Peter L. Beilenson.

The Baltimore City Cancer Plan will not only provide free screenings, but will pay for full cancer treatment -- at a cost of $100,000 or more -- for people who enter the program and are not eligible for Medicaid or Medicare.

In addition to the Park Heights health center, the screenings are also being offered at: Urban Medical Institute, 2600 Liberty Heights Ave.; UniversityCare Family Health Center, 4538 Edmonson Ave.; Bea Gaddy's Cancer Prevention and Education Center, 2106 E. Fayette St.; Garden of Prayer Baptist Church, 1147 Gorsuch Ave.; Hispanic Apostolate, 430 S. Broadway; Korean Resource Center, 425 E. Federal St.; Druid Dental Clinic, 1515 W. North Ave.; and the former Montebello Hospital at Morgan State University, Hillen Road at Cold Spring Lane.

People interested in free breast or cervical cancer screenings should call 410-955-4792. For prostate cancer screenings, people should call 410-955-5723.

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