We all have heard the line, “cancer doesn’t wait and neither should you.” Screening can help find cancer before symptoms appear. When abnormal tissue or cancer is found early, it may be easier to treat or cure. But by the time symptoms appear, the cancer may have grown and spread.
Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey at University Hospital in Newark on Oct. 2 held its fifth annual See, Test & Treat event where members of the community could receive free screenings for several types of cancer all in one day.
According to medical professionals, regular screening may find breast, cervical, colorectal and lung cancers when treatment is likely to work best.
“These types of cancers account for more than 50% of new cancer and patient diagnosis,” said Dr. Damali Campbell, assistant professor in the department of obstetrics and gynecology at the Rutgers New Jersey Medical School and attending physician at University Hospital in Newark. “Those are the big ones we see in both men and women.”
The event at University Hospital was supported by The College of American Pathologists Foundation and Natera. The Institutes faculty and medical students assisted with the screening.
As New Jerseyans are recovering from the pandemic, they are also trying to get back to work. For many, time is money. So, Campbell said, the fact that a person could get several tests done at one session was priceless. Especially in the underserved community. “We know that many of the times when we look at the health disparities that we see in various communities. The reason that these cancers are deadly is because of late diagnosis. And so we need people to get these screenings done, but we need them to get them done early because when the diagnosis is late, then of course, you know we’re dealing with poor prognosis and less chance of more favorable outcome.”
The pandemic paused cancer screenings and other elective medical procedures. “We didn’t know what we were dealing with the pandemic and we started out,” Campbell said. “And here we are, 18 months later and we’re still here. We kept saying ‘when things get normal.’ Well, I don’t know, things still aren’t really normal. I still don’t think that people have put it back on their plates to go for their routine screenings.”
Nationwide doctors are seeing advanced cancer cases in the wake of pandemic-delayed screenings and treatment and physicians now worry that delays have led to patients arriving at their offices with advanced cancer. In fact, according to the American Cancer Society, the impact was immediate as screening-related procedures dropped drastically starting in March 2020. The society projects that pandemic-related reductions in health care access and cancer screenings will result in a short-term drop in cancer diagnoses, then lead to an increase in later-stage cancer cases and preventable deaths.
“All of these things kind of built up to a perfect storm,” Campbell said. “It’s the issue of access, the issue of insurance, the issue of, can I get a timely appointment and all of these things are making it more difficult for people to get the routine screening.”
The response to the See Test and Treat day was so positive that appointments were all booked. In all, more than 120 people were examined during the day and Campbell said the volunteers pulled the whole day together through various teams working together and organizing the entire program.
All attendees were asked to register and then they were able to choose among the menu of items that were available. Free cervical and breast cancer screenings were available for both uninsured and underinsured women. Screenings were also available for hearing and vision along with smoking cessation counseling. Medical students did blood pressure screenings.
“This was our fifth year doing the See test and Treat community event, but we heard back from our community members that they wanted to have more screenings for men, and we were able to get some of our doctors to offer prostate cancer screenings and we were very happy to be able to also offer colon cancer screenings that men could take advantage of.”
There was also a wellness station. Campbell said more people are dealing with some type of anxiety and the Institute felt it was important to give people them some help on how to deal with stress. “We’re all a little anxious with everything that we’ve been through with this pandemic, and we wanted to be able to give people some tools to cope because anxiety doesn’t always mean you have to be on medicine. It doesn’t mean you have to be hospitalized. But we wanted to share the mechanisms on how to cope.”
There was even a complimentary lunch and people from the hospital and the medical school donated items that we were raffled off.
Natera offered high-risk genetic cancer screening to every participant. The clinical genetic testing company specializes in non-invasive, cell-free DNA testing technology.
“Some people are higher risk of cancer because they are carriers of, in layman’s terms, broken genes, but there are many of these types of broken genes. Of course, it’s not just the gene that you possess. There are other environmental factors that you also need to possess. And having all these things together, puts you at increased risk for cancer, but unfortunately, it is more prevalent in persons of color. And These tests are very expensive.”
In fact, Campbell said the entire day changed every attendee’s life, including the volunteers. “Not only the people who participated as participants, but the people who participated as volunteer’s lives changed because they really felt good about the time that they spent that day off and each one of the participants.”
“Each one of the people that came there that day had been walking around wondering what their health status was. Imagine walking around and you don’t know, you’re not able to get meaning, you don’t know, do I have a phone number? Do I have breast cancer. Do I have cervical cancer? Or I don’t have cervical cancer. So from one perspective, at least, if you come in – you can find out If you have a problem. The good news is you find our early and you get treated, right? But there is also a benefit to coming in and getting that scheduled and finding out you don’t have a problem. They have a weight that is lifted … because you saw a doctor. You’ve got the screening done and you’re OK.”