Free breast, cervical exams available, but many don't show up

Story by Kathleen Quilligan

HAMMOND | Quinnesia Bell realizes women who use Indiana Breast & Cervical Cancer Program services have a lot on their minds, and their health may take a back seat.

But they won't get the comfort early detection could provide if they don't show up to their appointments.

Bell, regional coordinator for the program run by HealthVisions Midwest, said women not showing up for the free exams has been a problem since she started with the program about 10 years ago.


"From my experience, the main reasons are lack of education about breast cancer and preventive health care, fear of a breast cancer diagnosis, discomfort and pain from actual mammograms and not making themselves a priority," Bell said. "The population that we serve in (Northwest Indiana) are faced with many socioeconomic challenges. So oftentimes those challenges are their focus, and not preventive health care."

The goal of the program is to ease women's concerns by providing free, routine annual exams and treatment. Bell said her region includes Lake and Porter counties and Michigan City. The services are available to women at 150 percent of the poverty level.

The exams and treatment are provided by about 30 providers throughout the region, including most local hospitals.

The program goal for the year of getting 1,000 women screened has been met, with 1,004 screenings so far. Bell said education about the importance of screenings is crucial for the program — and making sure women show up for appointments.

"There's a lot of fear and stigma that turns a lot of women off," Bell said.

The program provides screenings for women age 40 to 64, but breast screenings and mammograms are available only to women age 40 to 50 who may have problems, as stipulated by funding guidelines from the state and the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program. The Pink Ribbon Society, however, has provided more than $70,000 in the past eight years to underwrite the cost of mammograms, society member Marie Bates said.

Along with education, Bell said women in the program are sent reminder cards for appointments, and a case manager works with all abnormal cases to help women receive needed services.

To make an appointment for a screening, call (219) 844-2698, ext 104. Women are pre-screened by phone and referred to a provider. Women who are insured are accepted if they haven't met their deductible for the year or if their plans don't cover annual exams or mammograms, Bell said.

This article was originally published in The Northwest Indiana Times.