Fort Worth

Fort Worth clinics get funds to help low-income patients pay for colon cancer screenings

Dr. Sharon Mulvehill, left, chief medical officer for the North Texas Community Health Centers, talks with patient Maura Rosario on Monday. The agency’s Fort Worth north-side clinic is reaching out to the community for Colon Cancer Awareness Month.
Dr. Sharon Mulvehill, left, chief medical officer for the North Texas Community Health Centers, talks with patient Maura Rosario on Monday. The agency’s Fort Worth north-side clinic is reaching out to the community for Colon Cancer Awareness Month. Star-Telegram

When doctors recommended that Maura Rosario get a colonoscopy, she worried about how to pay for an estimated $1,500 exam with no insurance and limited funds.

But those worries were recently put to rest thanks a $50,000 American Cancer Society grant that allows the North Texas Area Community Health Center to help patients like Rosario pay for screenings.

Rosario, 48, will pay $125 for her colonoscopy. The health center, which is the only federally qualified clinic in Tarrant County, will pay most of the difference through the grant.

“You have to take advantage of this opportunity,” Rosario explained in Spanish. “Better safe than sorry.”

Colon and rectal cancer, called colorectal cancer, is the third-most-common cause of cancer death for men and women, according to the American Cancer Society.

This year, 10,500 new cases are expected to be diagnosed in Texas, according the society, which funds 102 colorectal cancer research grants totaling $57.7 million nationally.

Health professionals are promoting the need to screen as March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month.

“Colon cancer, if detected early, can be treated,” said Dr. Sharon Mulvehill, chief medical officer for North Texas Area Community Health Centers. “Patients who undergo regular screening have a better chance of having their cancer detected early and then they can have options for treatment, including cure.”

Eliminating barriers

The cancer society is pushing an initiative in which 80 percent of adults 50 and older get regularly screened by 2018.

The partnership with the health center builds on this goal by helping eliminate barriers to colon cancer screening. That effort relies on a $6.4 million gift to the cancer society from the Walgreens Way to Well Commitment.

Health providers said among issues that keep people from getting screened are lack of insurance, out-of-pocket costs, transportation, information and fear.

Dr. Elizabeth Trevino, the health center’s CEO, said the grant is helping the agency educate patients in English and Spanish about colon cancer screenings. Patients get bilingual reminder cards that tell patients they need to be screened.

Because the costs of screenings are often barriers to working-class or low-income families, Trevino said the agency is using the grant to help pay some of the costs of screenings and colonoscopies for eligible patients.

Getting regular screenings

Several screenings are available, Mulvehill said. At the agency’s north-side health clinic, patients are urged to take the fecal immunochemical test, or FIT.

“It is a chemical test on the patient’s own stool,” Mulvehill said. “They take the test home. It is performed on a card. The card can be sent into the laboratory and then it is positive or negative.”

The test, which should be taken every year, looks for markers of abnormal blood in the stool, she said.

The grant allows the health clinic to charge only $11 for the test.

“If it is positive, then we recommend colonoscopy,” Mulvehill said, explaining that that procedure looks for abnormal lesions in the colon.

“The hope is that if there is something abnormal, it can be detected early,” Mulvehill said.

Diane Smith, 817-390-7675

Twitter: @dianeasmith1

More information

To ask about a colon cancer screening in Fort Worth, visit Northside Community Health Center, 2106 N. Main St., or Southeast Community Health Center, 2909 Mitchell Blvd.

▪ 817-625-4254 or 817-916-4333

▪ www.ntachc.org

▪ The American Cancer Society has a 24-hour help line at 800-227-2345.

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