Tag Archives: cancer

Cervical Health Awareness Month

By Trenessa K. Jones, DSL
Best Chance Network Director
Division of Cancer Prevention & Control

Cervical Health Awareness Month is an opportunity to raise awareness about how women can protect themselves from cervical cancer, which was once one of the most common causes of cancer death for U.S. women.

While more work remains to prevent and respond to cervical cancer, fortunately the death rate has gone down with the increased use of screening tests.

You may qualify for free screening

The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control’s (DHEC) Best Chance Network (BCN), along with its many partners, work to educate the public on the importance of cervical cancer screenings and help those who cannot afford to get screened.

BCN, which is administered by DHEC’s Cancer Prevention and Control Division, offers breast and cervical cancer screenings at no cost to women who have no health insurance or only have hospitalization insurance, who are between the ages of 30 and 64, and who meet certain program and income guidelines. The BCN program partners with more than 450 health care providers in the state to coordinate cancer screenings for these under-served women. The program also offers diagnosis and treatment, data tracking, public education and more.

The work of BCN

Since its inception in 1991, BCN has provided more than 225,000 breast cancer and cervical cancer screenings for eligible women, assisting nearly 11,000 this past year alone.

According to the National Cancer Institute/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention State Cancer Profile, an average of 190 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer a year, while about 72 women die from the disease every year in South Carolina.  Thanks to an increase in routine Pap smears, cervical cancer rates have dropped drastically in the last 60 years, but South Carolina still ranks 14th in the nation for new cases of cervical cancer and 11th in the nation for cervical cancer deaths.

Cervical cancer symptoms may not be present in early stages.  That’s why routine screenings are so important; when caught and treated early, cervical cancer is highly curable.

“No woman in South Carolina should die from this highly preventable cancer. Regular screenings and follow up care are critical and if found early and treated it can be cured,” said Virginie Daguise, Ph.D., director of DHEC’s Bureau of Community Health and Chronic Disease Prevention.

Visit the DHEC website for more information on BCN.

Colorectal cancer deadly, but preventable

By Sonya Younger

Colorectal cancer will claim the lives of an estimated 830 South Carolinians this year. Another 2,200 will be diagnosed with the disease.

According to the American Cancer Society’s “Cancer Facts and Figures 2016,” colorectal cancer is the second most common cancer in both men and women in the United States and South Carolina, with almost 49,000 deaths and 134,000 new cases occurring nationally. There are 1.2 million Americans living with colorectal cancer in the United States.

Despite those statistics, colorectal (or colon) cancer is a preventable disease — if it’s detected early, which is why it’s so critical for people 50 and older to be tested regularly. Only 64.2 percent of people 50 or older report having ever had a colorectal cancer screening test in South Carolina (S.C. Behavior Risk Factor Surveillance System 2012).

This month is National Colorectal Cancer Month, a time not only to be reminded of the damage this cancer can cause, but to be reminded of how early detection can help prevent the disease.

Catch colorectal cancer early

It’s important to screen for colon cancer because it often doesn’t reveal itself. The disease is a silent killer: Polyps and early stage colon cancer often cause no symptoms.

But the rate of new cases has been decreasing for most of the past two decades, a trend that has largely been attributed to increases in the use of colorectal cancer screening tests that allow for the detection and removal of colorectal polyps before they become cancerous (American Cancer Society, Cancer Facts and Figures 2014).

The U.S. Protective Services Task Force recommends screening for colorectal cancer using fecal occult blood testing, sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy in adults beginning at age 50 and continuing until age 75. The colonoscopy is the most widely used.

Reducing the risk

According to the American Cancer Society, there are a number of factors that can increase the risk of getting colorectal cancer, including physical inactivity, overweight and obesity, smoking and alcohol use.

Family history and race also are factors.

People with a parent, sibling or child who has had colorectal cancer have two to three times the risk of developing the disease compared to individuals with no family history. If the relative was diagnosed at a young age or if there is more than one affected relative, the risk increases. About 20 percent of all colorectal cancer patients have a close relative who was diagnosed with the disease.

African-Americans are at a higher risk for the disease than other populations, according to studies. Starting at age 50, everyone should begin routine screening tests. Research shows that African-Americans are being diagnosed at a younger average age than other people. Therefore, some experts suggest that African-Americans should begin their screening at age 45.

There are ways to help reduce the risk of developing colorectal cancer, including:

  • getting screened regularly
  • adopting a physically active lifestyle
  • eating a healthy diet
  • limiting alcohol consumption

Screening more accessible to state employees

In South Carolina, the Public Employee Benefits Authority (PEBA) considered early detection to be so important that it made an intentional effort to increase colorectal cancer screening rates among state employees and their family members over age 50 — a group of approximately 118,000 enrollees. In order to find the right approach, PEBA, which administers retirement and insurance benefits for South Carolina public employers, employees and retirees, collaborated with the University of South Carolina Center for Colon Cancer Research, the American Cancer Society, the S.C. Cancer Alliance and the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control’s S.C. Central Cancer Registry (SCCCR).

Key data from the SCCCR was used to help produce critical materials and fact sheets for the PEBA Board of Directors to review. One of the recommendations among the materials was to remove all cost barriers for screening supported by data-driven statements using South Carolina’s incidence, mortality, stage distribution (particularly the percent of late-stage cases diagnosed annually), as well as the costs of treatment for advanced disease. The cost savings of screening versus treatment was demonstrated.

The board ultimately voted to remove cost barriers to screening for State Health Plan enrollees. Even though this screening was covered by the State Health Plan, deductibles, co-pays and out-of-pocket costs could add up to hundreds of dollars.

 

Effective January 2016, this colonoscopy benefit is offered at no cost to State Health Plan primary members at network providers. The State Health Plan has removed a patient’s out-of-pocket cost for diagnostic colonoscopies and routine screenings, including the pre-surgical consultation, the generic prep kit, the procedure itself and associated anesthesia. The state’s Standard and Savings plans follow the age recommendations set by the United States Preventive Services Task Force for routine colonoscopies.

The key refrain in the fight against colorectal cancer is simple and direct: Get screened regularly.

Visit the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control’s page on colorectal cancer for more information.

Learn More About Cervical Cancer

By Stephanie Hinton, CPM, MHS, MA, Director, DHEC Division of Cancer Prevention & Control
Cervical cancer symptoms may not be present in early stages.  That’s why routine screenings are so important to detect cervical cancer early before symptoms occur.  When caught and treated early, cervical cancer is highly curable.

You May Qualify for Free Screening

Cervical cancer screenings are available for South Carolina women who meet program eligibility requirements.  DHEC’s Division of Cancer Prevention and Control administers The Best Chance Network (BCN). Contact the American Cancer Society at 1-800-227-2345 for additional information on program eligibility.  You may qualify if you:

  • Are a woman who lives in South Carolina
  • Are 40 to 64-years old
  • Do not have health insurance or are underinsured (meaning your insurance only covers hospital care)
  • Meet income eligibility guidelines

Cervical Cancer is on the Decline                                                                                        

According to the S.C. Central Cancer Registry, 980 women were diagnosed with cervical cancer from 2008 – 2012, while more than 350 women died from the disease during the same period.  Thanks to an increase in routine Pap smears, cervical cancer rates have dropped drastically in the last 60 years, but South Carolina still ranks 14th in the nation for cervical cancer incidence and mortality.

cervical-infographic long

Early Breast Cancer Detection Can Save Your Life

By Sonya Younger, DHEC Division of Cancer Prevention and Control Program

Ladies, let’s make a promise to ourselves – a promise to conduct self breast exams regularly and to get mammograms as recommended by the American Cancer Society. This simple promise can help detect breast cancer early and can make all the difference for a full recovery. #FindItFightIt

According to the American Cancer Society, breast cancer is the most common cancer among women. In 2015, there will be an estimated 3,820 new cases of breast cancer in South Carolina, and an estimated 620 deaths from the disease. But if detected early through screening and early diagnosis, breast cancer can be treated successfully. Being informed about screening options and making healthy lifestyle choices can help you take care of your body.

Screening Options
Steady declines in breast cancer mortality among women since 1989 have been attributed to a combination of early detection and improvements in treatment. For most women, breast cancer screenings include self exams, annual clinical breast exams and mammography.

breast-cancer-iStock_000016019343_XXXLarge cropMammography can often detect breast cancer at an early stage before any symptoms are present, and this early detection is when treatment is more effective. For younger women or women with dense breasts, digital mammography or ultrasound imaging in combination with standard mammography may increase the likelihood of detecting cancer. For most women at high risk of breast cancer, annual screening using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in addition to mammography is recommended, typically starting at the age of 30. 

To know what screenings are right for you, please talk to your healthcare provider and visit the American Cancer Society (ACS) and the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) websites for leading guidelines. Get familiar with the known benefits, limitations, and potential harms linked to breast cancer screening and know how your breasts normally look and feel and report any changes to a health care provider right away.

Best Chance Network

Knowing that all women should have access to preventive care, DHEC’s Best Chance Network  (BCN) offers free breast and cervical cancer screenings to women who meet certain risk and income eligibility requirements. DHEC partners with the South-Atlantic Division of the American Cancer Society and more than 400 health care providers in every county of the state to coordinate cancer screenings for these underserved women.

Who May Qualify for Free Cancer Screenings? 

  • Women who live in South Carolina
  • Women 40 to 64 years old
  • Women who do not have health insurance or are underinsured (meaning your insurance only covers hospital care)
  • Women who meet income eligibility guidelines

Now in its 25th year, BCN has provided more than 155,000 eligible women with breast and cervical cancer screening and has helped diagnose more than 1,600 breast cancers and 2,500 pre-cervical and cervical cancers since 1991.The program is funded through a cooperative agreement with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Prevention

In addition to screenings, making healthy lifestyle choices can help prevent the risk of breast cancer. To reduce your risk, you can:

  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Eat a variety of vegetables, fruits and whole grains regularly.
  • Stay active or increase your daily physical activity.
  • Avoid or reduce alcohol consumption.
  • And, don’t smoke.

By providing access to early detection and treatment services, more women in South Carolina can win their battle against cancer. For more information, call the American Cancer Society at 1-800-227-2345, and ask about the South Carolina BCN.

Mary’s Story – DHEC Employee, Breast Cancer Survivor

By Mary N. Bright, Public Information Director, DHEC’s Division of Emergency Response, Nuclear Response and Emergency Environmental Surveillance

In honor of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, DHEC’s Mary Bright is sharing her story about her fight against the disease.  

I’m sure some people would scoff when I say I’m one of the lucky ones but you’d probably have to know my story to understand why.

I have cancer; specifically, Stage II Invasive Ductal Metastatic Breast Cancer.

I know.  When I first heard that I had no idea what it meant either.

When I first found out, I couldn’t breathe.  When the doctor called me with the results of the biopsy, I was still telling myself the lump I had found was nothing.  Before that phone call, I had almost convinced myself that the second lump my Primary Care Physician found was a mistake too.  I told myself that we were both being overly cautious after a relative had been diagnosed with multiple cancers six months prior.

The next day, I checked myself for lumps in my breast.  I found nothing and told myself, “I’m only 40 years old.  I’m okay.”  I used to consider myself a careful person.  I usually checked myself every month but once in a while I would miss a month.  When I did, I would tell myself that I was fine because I was too young to worry.  This wasn’t something women my age needed to worry about yet.

I checked again in December and found nothing… then, life got in the way.  Three months went by while I helped my husband through major shoulder surgery.  I came home from work one day last March and settled onto the couch to relax after work.

We have three small dogs and usually the moment we sit down, they are in our laps.  Our smallest is a mini-dachshund named Shae.  That day Shae wouldn’t hop up.  She sat in the floor staring.  I called to her again and patted my lap.  Again, nothing… She just stared at me.  After a moment, Shae leapt off the floor and landed on the right side of my chest.  Immediately, pain shot up and down my body.  My first thought was that she had a broken nail and had gouged my skin when she jumped.  I scooped her up and handed her to my husband.  I began feeling around for what I expected to be a scratch and there it was… the lump… and it was big.

My heart stopped.

I thought, “There’s no way.”  It couldn’t be.  I was way too young for this, right?  It had to be something else.  How long had it been since I last checked?  Only three months.  It couldn’t be a tumor, right?  I turned to my husband and I said something to the effect of, “Sweetie, can you feel this?”  I remember his smile disappearing the moment he pressed down.  He said, “Honey, you need to go to the doctor… now.”

Two days later, I was in with Dr. Brian Cline, my primary care physician, explaining what happened.  He told me we would check everything out.  He said, hopefully, he’d be able to tell me that the lump was nothing.  The moment Dr. Cline pressed down, his whole demeanor changed.  He got very serious and said, “I can’t tell you this is nothing.”  He checked the right side and there it was; another lump, about the side of a marble, just below my armpit.

A quick and nearly painless mammogram and ultrasound pointed to the worst case scenario so the doctor ordered a biopsy while I was still on the table.  Dr. Tommy Cupples called with the results the next day; positive for carcinoma… every sample.

Less than a week later, my new oncologist, Dr. James Wells, gave me the verdict:

Stage II Invasive Ductal Metastatic Breast Cancer… two lumps, one in my right breast and one in a right lymph node.

But what did it mean?  Thankfully, Dr. Wells cut to the chase.  It was curable and he already had a plan: eight sessions of chemo, surgery and seven weeks of radiation.  It sounded like a lot.  It sounded like too much.  Dr. Wells said the lumps were big; the one in my breast measured three cm high and five cm long.  It was nearly the size of a grapefruit wedge.  The one in my lymph node was like a small marble.  He wanted to attack the cancer aggressively because of my age.  I was pretty young for that kind of diagnosis.  He also needed to make sure it wasn’t anywhere else.

Mary hoodieSuddenly, my life was in fast forward.

The next day, Friday, was a full body MRI; the day after was a PET scan.  Two days later was more than 10 hours in various doctor’s offices; a root canal I was avoiding, a surgical consult and another oncology visit.  I had to have the root canal to close off any open pathways for infection.  Chemo would require that I minimize any chance of allowing bacteria to make its way into my body.  Two days after all that, I had surgery to place a quarter-sized port in my chest so the chemotherapy drugs wouldn’t destroy my veins.  It was an unimaginably difficult week and we had barely begun.

Sixteen painful weeks followed; weeks where my white blood cell count dropped down to 100, causing me to be admitted to the oncology ward, weeks where the pain and exhaustion were too much for me to even get out of bed, weeks where the skin on my hands and feet came off in sheets.  But I made it through that and then through surgery and now radiation.

Through all of that, I am still one of the lucky ones.  I went through the worst period of my life; it was a painful and exhausting struggle to even feel human.  But if you remember what I said at the beginning, you’ll see the parts of my story that make me feel lucky:

ShaeThanks to little Shae, we found the lumps while I was still curable.

I met so many people along the way who were so much worse off; those in constant pain suffering from terminal cases, those in wheel chairs and using walkers and canes to get around.  A week before I began chemo, while still upset and stressed about what chemo would mean to me; I met a stranger who told that she’d “been going through chemo for two years and was still here.”  It was right then that I realized – with only eight sessions of chemo, I had nothing to complain about.

I had the best doctors and nurses I could have hoped for.

From my primary care physician, Dr. Brian Cline, to my oncologist, Dr. James Wells, to my radiological oncologist, Dr. Quillin Davis, and all the other doctors, nurses and techs in between, I was treated like family.  They got to know me on a personal level; I was not just my symptoms or my disease.  I was a person they cared for as if I were family.  They kept me smiling and hopeful at every step.

I was granted time off when I needed it.

My co-workers and friends who worked for state agencies and even perfect strangers allowed me to take time off to heal and get stronger.  Because DHEC and other state government agencies participate in the Leave Pool program, leave donated from other state employees allowed me to go through the treatments, to heal and to stay strong.

I was blessed enough to have insurance.

Cancer treatment isn’t cheap; multiple surgeries, chemo drugs, medication, radiation therapy and I’m still facing five years of a daily medication called Tamoxifen that will help prevent my cancer from returning.  But I have insurance and we’ve managed to pay off most of our bills.  I’ve met so many women who told me they put off getting mammograms because they can’t afford it.  They don’t have insurance or they don’t have enough to cover a mammogram.  I’ve told every one of them… Don’t wait!  There are resources like DHEC’s Best Chance Network that can provide services for men and women who qualify for free screenings.

I have felt so much love and support from so many.

My husband, my family, my friends… I know they would all be there for me through this terrible, terrible disease and treatment.  What I didn’t know is how many people, complete strangers, who stop me in the street and offer me their prayers and well wishes.

mary hug two

I am lucky.  I am.

I am lucky to still be here to tell each of you that you don’t have to go through what I did.  Be careful.  Check yourselves and check your loved ones.  Do it early and often.  It’s treatable and best to find it early.

If you are diagnosed, don’t lose hope.  Breast cancer isn’t an automatic death sentence.  We can beat it… and if you’re diagnosed, remember that you are not alone.

Mary and Darci

Mary Bright and WLTX 19 Anchor Darci Strickland who recently covered Mary’s story. Watch Mary’s story on WLTX here.