Screenings play crucial role in catching cancer early

Community health care providers agree that the earlier a disease is detected the better the odds of successful treatment. Especially when that disease is cancer.

That is why people are urged to take advantage of screenings for different types of cancer, especially since some of them are free.

Here are some things to know about screenings:

Free screenings helpful

Gena Luhn, manager of medical oncology at the Columbus Regional Health Cancer Center, said its free annual screening programs for local residents generally see 100 percent participation from the community.

“Every three years there’s an assessment throughout the community and we base the screenings off that,” Luhn said. “This fall we will be looking at that information and based on those results we will determine what screenings we will offer next year.”

Based off the results of the Community Health Needs Assessment, the free screenings are advertised in local media and there is a registration process to fill the limited number of available slots, Luhn said.

The assessment examines the highest mortality rates from cancers in the community, and based on those findings, future (free) screening programs are determined, she said.

However, cancer screening for the most common types of cancers, such as breast and lung, shouldn’t be put off, Luhn said.

Despite the availability of preventative screenings that are covered under most insurance plans, there are still some people who either may not be aware of the screenings or choose to not participate, she added.

Don’t delay breast screenings

Such is the case with mammography and breast cancer screenings, said Deana Tuell, manager of the Breast Health Center at Columbus Regional Health.

Mammograms are an invaluable screening tool for women who have a strong family history of breast cancer, Tuell said.

“Certainly those people should be more aware. We know that some breast cancers can be inherited. But all women need to be aware,” she said.

Tuell said mammograms are not difficult.

“It is maybe 15 seconds of discomfort for a whole year of some peace, quiet and a sense that things are OK,” she said. “Certainly, anytime during the year those things can change.”

Recommended for women age 40 and older, annual mammography screening takes two pictures of each breast for four pictures total. Patients are generally in and out within 35 minutes, Tuell said.

If you want to increase your chances of a fairly quick visit, schedule it for early in the year, Tuell added. Some people wait until the end of the year to schedule their screenings, which will increase wait times.

Once the mammogram is completed, test results are generally available within one to two weeks, depending on the time of year. Patients will receive a letter via the U.S. Postal Service with their results as long as results are normal.

“If additional views are necessary, we will call you,” Tuell said. “Mammography is not 100 percent certain of anything. There is no screening test that is.”

Tuell recommends that women do self exams routinely. And if you find something suspicious or you just don’t feel right, make an appointment to see your doctor.

“I would tell women, you know your body. You’ve lived with this body for a lot of years, so you know what’s right for you and what’s different,” she said.

Smokers should get lung screening

Kristopher Abney, practice manager of the Lung Institute and VIMCare Clinic with Columbus Regional Health, said cancer screening is extremely important for anyone.

Lung cancer screenings require a written referral from the patient’s primary health care provider.

The screenings utilize low-dose radiation, which is much lower than what you would get during a traditional CT scan, Abney said.

Generally, patients considered to be at a higher risk for lung cancer are age 55 to 77 years old and have a history of smoking for 30 years or are former smokers who have quit within the past 15 years, he said.

The screening process, which takes about 10 minutes, is covered by Medicare but there are some requirements for patient reimbursement, Abney added.

“The patient registers, gets the screen done and results are turned around fairly quickly,” he said. “It can be within 24 hours or the same day.”

Lung screening is performed within the parameters of recommendations put forth by the state of Indiana. In addition to the recommended patient age for screening and smoking history, part of the recommendations also state the patient may not have any signs or symptoms of lung cancer, Abney said.

“After initial screening, typically annual screening is recommended if nothing is found,” Abney said.

Similar to mammography, patients aren’t exactly lining up to get screened, but for a different reason Abney said.

“I don’t think the awareness is out there,” he said. “But you are dealing with a difficult population with smokers and, more often than not, their enthusiasm for being screened isn’t really there.”

Despite one’s hesitancy, Abney encourages those who have a history of smoking to get screened.

“Early detection plays a vital role in outcomes,” he said. “If there’s an issue they may have a better outcome if it’s detected early.”