Program teaches importance of cancer screening

By Jessi Stone Assistant editor | Jan 06, 2014
Residents march in the Canton Relay for Life event last May.

Statistics show that Haywood County residents have a low rate of breast cancer diagnosis and more women are dying at a higher rate from breast cancer than that of the state or country.

That is why the American Cancer Society is encouraging women in Haywood County to get their mammogram screenings early through the recently launched Community Health Advisor Program.

Carolyne Moses, Community Health Advisor manager for ACS, said the program is specifically for Haywood, Jackson and Swain counties where the communities have lower than average cancer screening rates and a higher than average percent of families in poverty.

Women without the means — a job, money and insurance — are less likely to get cancer screenings, which leads to later diagnoses and a decreased chance of successful treatment.

“We educate and encourage women in the community to get breast cancer screenings,” she said. “We help them overcome whatever barriers are preventing them from getting that screening.”

The American Cancer Society is actively looking for volunteers to assist with the program. The advisors receive training and are asked to volunteer a maximum of 10 hours a month and attend one meeting a month.

The training will increase their knowledge about health issues, improve their leadership skills and build relationships with local service providers. Moses said these volunteers would work with community partners to host speaking engagements for different groups of women.

“We’ll tell women what resources are available and if a woman is interested in letting us help, we set them up with an advisor who will help them find the resources they need,” she said. “A community health advisor serves as a natural helper in the community  — someone others can turn to for advice, assistance, or referrals to appropriate resources for cancer prevention and early detection.”

The program consists of three different volunteers. The first is the Community Network Partnerships — stakeholders in the community that know what the resources are. The CNPs in Haywood County consist of the Health Department, MedWest Hospital and Mountain Projects.

The CNPs in Haywood meet once a month and work together with the recruitment of Community Health Advisor volunteers as well as putting together a resource guide, developing a community action plan, and continual understanding of the resources in the community.

The “community coordinator” is what Moses called the “super CHA.” She said it's an individual chosen by the Community Health Advisor manager “that goes above and beyond and is the go-to person for the other CHAs.”  The coordinator attends the Community Network Partners meeting once a month to give an update on the progress of the advisors.

Moses said the program is mainly focused on women and breast cancer right now but that didn’t mean the program wouldn’t be geared toward men in the future.

The program was started several years ago based on evidence that people in these underserved communities weren’t getting cancer screenings soon enough, Moses said.

She said the good news was that almost 60 percent of cancers are preventable. With more than 1.5 million new cases of cancer expected to be diagnosed in the next year in the U.S., it is important for individuals to be aware of the risks and the screenings available to catch it early.

To help cut down on cancer incidence rates, the American Cancer Society uses the CHA program among others to specifically reach the populations most at risk for cancer. The program also exists in Mobile, Alabama; Little Rock, Arkansas; eastern Kentucky; New Orleans, Louisiana; Jackson, Mississippi and Memphis, Tennessee.

“Across the board, since being implemented, the CHA program in the Deep South Network, which is the model our CHA program is based, in the majority of the counties where the program was implemented, there was an elimination in the disparity of screening rates,” Moses said.

If you would like to play a part in this impactful program, contact Moses at 586-8035 or on her cell at 226-3653 or by email at carolyne.moses@cancer.org. Training is tentatively scheduled to begin Jan. 18.

Another way to get involved with ACS is to participate in the annual Relay for Life events in West Haywood or in Canton. West Haywood will hold its event starting at 6 p.m. May 9 at the Waynesville Recreation Center and Canton will begin its event at 6 p.m. May 16 at the Canton Recreation Park.

The next Relay committee meeting will be held at 5:30 p.m. Jan. 7 at the Lake Junaluska Bethea Welcome center. The Relay kickoff event will be held at 5:30 p.m. Jan. 14 at the same location.

Who Should Get Screened?

The American Cancer Society’s current Breast Cancer Screening Guidelines recommend:

  • Yearly mammograms at age 40 and continuing for as long as a woman is in good health
  • Breast exam about every 3 years for women in their 20s and 30s and every year for women 40 and over
  • All women should know how their breasts normally look and feel and should report ANY breast change promptly to their doctor or nurse. Breast self-exam (BSE) is an option for women starting in their 20s.
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