BELOIT—In light of October being Breast Cancer Awareness Month, those at Beloit Area Community Health Center (BACHC) are urging women not to put their preventative health screenings on pause during the pandemic.
Since COVID-19, fewer women have been coming in for mammograms and pap smears, according to Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner Laura Anderson.
Anderson said there is concern there could be an increase in cancer diagnosis or mortality if health issues aren’t identified early enough. Currently, the clinic has about six women a day coming in for preventive screenings, lower than prior to the pandemic.
“Preventative services got put on hold. The pandemic is going to continue and we don’t know for how long,” Anderson said. “People are avoiding preventative care because they are afraid to come into the clinic.”
In addition to women not coming in due to the pandemic, social worker Mollie Gill said some might not have insurance or feel the screenings are too costly.
Gill said staff at BACHC can help women see if they qualify for the Wisconsin Well Woman Program. It’s designed for women ages 45 to 65 and covers their cervical cancer screenings, clinical breast exams and mammograms. Women who are younger may also qualify if a provider believes they need further screenings after finding a lump or a concerning health issue. The income limits are higher than those with the typical federal poverty level.
“We can do enrollment here and see if they can apply,” Gill said.
Anderson said cervical cancer screening guidelines have changed. The general consensus is that starting at age 21, a woman should have a pap smear every three years. Once a woman turns 30, there is the option for a pap test every three years or a pap with HPV co-testing.
“If you get the pap smear with the HPV co-testing, it’s every five years. The majority of cervical cancer is related to the HPV virus, and cervical can take 15-20 years to develop. Cervical cancer is slow growing,” Anderson said.
Women should generally start getting mammograms around age 45 and then every two to three years after that. If one has not had one by age 50, it’s definitely time for one.
Anderson said breast exams and cervical screenings are done at BACHC and mammograms are done at either Mercy or Dean health systems in Janesville.
BACHC offers donated wigs free of charge to women who have lost their hair due to cancer treatment.
NorthPointe Health and Wellness Campus, 5605 E. Rockton Road, Roscoe, holds a walk-in screening mammogram clinic held every second and fourth Monday of each month from 5—8 p.m. Physician referral is not needed and patients can just walk in. Most insurance is accepted. People can call 608-364-5249 for more information.