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Free Women's Health Screenings Available

Polk County Public Health is offering free mammograms, pap tests and women's health checks.

POLK COUNTY -- Polk County Public Health is offering free mammograms, pap tests and women's health checks.

"It is very important for women to get regular exams to assure early detection for breast and cervical cancer. Many women do not have insurance, or are underinsured and simply put off getting these important screenings due to an inability to pay," states Barbara Schmidt.

To qualify for the free services women must be 40 years or older and have not had a mammogram or pap test in the past 11 months. They must not be on birth control pills or in their child-bearing years.

In addition, women who only need a mammogram and have their own physician are eligible to receive free vouchers for a mammogram.

Women are encouraged to call the public health department at 503-623-8175 immediately to determine eligibility based on low-income guidelines and schedule an appointment.

What is breast cancer?

Breast cancer is a malignant tumor that has developed from cells of the breast. This disease mostly occurs in women, but does occur rarely in men.

Signs of breast cancer:

The most common sign of breast cancer is a new lump or mass. Often, someone can have breast cancer and not know it. Small masses can go undetected; only a mammogram can detect centimeter cancers. If the mass is painless, hard and has irregular edges, it is more likely to be cancerous, but some cancers are tender, soft and round.

Other signs of breast cancer are generalized swelling of part of a breast, skin irritation, nipple pain or retraction (turning inward), redness of the nipple or breast skin, or a discharge other than breast milk.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer and the second leading cause of cancer death among women. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death.

If the cancer is detected at an early stage, a woman's likelihood of survival increases. In other words, early detection saves lives. When breast cancer is diagnosed at a local stage, the five-year survival is 97 percent. When breast cancer is diagnosed after it has spread, the five-year survival is decreased to 21 percent.

Risk factors

The incidence of breast cancer has increased steadily in the United States over the last few decades, and since the early 1970s, it has been climbing by about two percent per year. Approximately one in every eight American women will develop breast cancer by the time she reaches 85.

Caucasian women have higher age-adjusted incidence rates of breast cancer than any other racial or ethnic group in the United States except native Hawaiians. However, even though African Americans have lower age-adjusted incidence rates than white, their mortality rates are very identical.

Things you can stop doing to decrease your risk include:

♦ having more than one drink of alcohol per day;

♦ taking birth control pills for five years;

♦ not getting regular exercise;

♦ currently or recently using some form of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) for 10 years or longer, which may slightly increase risk;

♦ being overweight or gaining weight as an adult;

♦ and being exposed to large amounts of radiation, such as having very frequent spine X-rays during scoliosis treatment.

Risk factors you cannot control include getting older -- the older you get, the greater your risk of breast cancer; having a mother, daughter, or sister who has had breast cancer; having had breast cancer; being young (under the age of 12 years old) at the time of having your first period; starting menopause later (after 55 years of age); never having been pregnant; or having your first child after the age of 30.

What is cervical cancer?

Cervical cancer begins in the lining of the cervix. Cervical cancers don't form suddenly. There is a gradual change from a normal cervix to precancer to cancer. This usually takes several years, but can sometimes happen in less than a year.

For some women, precancerous changes may go away without any treatment. More often, if these precancers are treated, true cancers can be prevented.

Signs of cervical cancer

Cervical cancers and early cancers usually show no symptoms or signs. A woman usually develops symptoms when the cancer has become invasive. Signs and symptoms of cervical cancer are: unusual discharge from the vagina (other than that of the menstrual cycle); bleeding following intercourse; and pain during intercourse.

The incidence and death rate of cancer of the cervix have been decreasing in the United States for several decades. The death rate declined by 70 percent over the past 50 years, in large part because of early detection efforts through getting regular pap smears.

Risk factors

If cervical cancer is diagnosed and treated in its very earliest stage, the five-year survival rate approaches 100 percent. Caucasian women have lower incidence rates that Africans, American-Indians, Hispanics, and Native Hawaiians.

Risk factors include women who have had sexual intercourse before age 18; women who have had several sex partners; women with poor diets (low in fruits and vegetables); -- and age.

The average women being diagnosed is 50 to 55 years. The risk is very low in girls under 15 years.

Other risk factors are sexually transmitted diseases including infection with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) or some of the human papilloma virus (HPV); cigarette smoking and low socioeconomic status.

Early diagnosis and treatment of breast and cervical cancer saves lives, reduces catastrophic major medical costs, and economic impacts to the family. The detection of breast cancer at an early stage can significantly decrease the cost of treatment as well as the cost in suffering and lost productivity.

The cost for treatment of early-stage breast cancer ranges from $14,000 to $25,000. The cost for treatment of later-stage breast cancer by contrast tends to be $84,000 or more.

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