Cancer screening funding threatened

The Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association offers free cancer screenings for women and it needs to keep participation numbers high to ensure future funding.

"Our funding is always based on prior numbers," said Lorianne Perry, a family nurse practitioner who holds clinic hours at the VNA in Craig and Steamboat Springs. "The more people we see, the more funding we get. One feeds the other."

The VNA gets grant money from the Colorado Women's Cancer Control Initiative. It uses the money to pay for Pap smears, pelvic exams, clinical breast exams and even mammograms.

Public health is going through a financial crisis, Perry said. Clinical tests and other programs still exist, but there is less money to advertise them and bring awareness to local women, Perry said.

Last year, the VNA saw 64 women participate in the program. Halfway through the current year, that number was only 18.

Perry said the number is now closer to 50, but "our numbers are still down from last year."

Since the funding for most programs is based on patient numbers from the previous year, the VNA is urging women to take advantage of the program or the VNA could lose some of next year's funding.

To qualify, women must be at least 40 years old and they can't have had a mammogram in the last 12 months or have insurance that will cover mammograms. They need to meet income requirements. They must live in Colorado, although patients in neighboring towns like Baggs, Wyo. can be seen, too.

Patients who qualify can make appointments with the VNA and Perry will see them.

The family nurse practitioner will perform the health screenings, including the Pap smear, pelvic examination and the clinical breast exam.

Patients who are more than 50 years old automatically qualify for a mammogram that will be ordered by Perry and paid for by the VNA.

Patients younger than 40 can still qualify for the mammogram if certain risk factors for breast cancer are present. An unusual finding in the clinical breast exam is one example, Perry said. Clients whose mother, sister or daughter developed breast cancer at an age younger than 50 also qualify for free mammograms.

Mammograms have become a controversial diagnostic tool, Perry said. One school of thought looks to mammography as the "gold standard." Another suggests it's not the perfect tool. Either way, the VNA can arrange the test for women who value it but may not be able to afford it. The test costs between $130 and $160, although The Memorial Hospital offers half-price mammograms during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which is October.

But the test is free to women who qualify and Perry urges them to participate.

"We'd love to see them," Perry said. "We strive to do preventative health care. We like people to know we're here and available."

Women who are interested can contact the VNA at 824-8233 to schedule an appointment.

Jeremy Browning can be reached at 824-7031 or jbrowning@craigdailypress.com

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