KU residents conduct cancer screenings in rural Kansas
June 24, 2014
By Laura Long
On Aug. 30, the population of Walnut, Kan., will jump to 230. That's when University of Kansas School of Medicine urology and dermatology residents, along with staff from the Midwest Cancer Alliance and area Masonic Lodge volunteers, will come to town to provide a free cancer screening for the farm community that's nestled between Fort Scott and Pittsburg.
The residents devote several weekends a year to help with cancer screenings in rural Kansas communities. The screenings are hosted by the Kansas Masonic Foundation and coordinated by Midwest Cancer Alliance (MCA), the outreach arm of The University of Kansas Cancer Center.
According to Brooke Groneman, the outreach director for MCA, more than 3,000 Kansas residents have attended the Masonic screenings since 2003. The events include skin and prostate cancer screenings as well as bone density tests and breast cancer prevention information. The Kansas Masonic Foundation has scheduled 11 screenings for 2014. Screenings were held this spring in Parsons and Pomona. Screenings are also scheduled for Independence, Walnut, LeRoy, Manhattan, Louisburg, Moran, Goodland, Pittsburg and Girard (see dates below).
The Centers for Disease Control data identifies Kansas as one of the states with higher rates of melanoma. As dermatology resident Gina Weir, M.D., points out, "It makes sense because people in rural areas often have occupations that involve chronic sun exposure which can lead to skin cancer."
Across the country one in every five Americans will develop skin cancer over the course of their lifetimes.
"Melanomas can quickly spread and lead to serious health problems and even death," says dermatologist Kimberly Tefft, M.D. "The sooner they are diagnosed and treated, the better chance a patient has of recovery."
That proved to be the case last May when Tefft noticed a dark spot on Jim Kay, a Masonic volunteer at a screening in Minneapolis, Kan.
"I'd had that spot for a while but I just never got around to getting it checked," explains Kay. "However, once the dermatologist advised me to see someone, I went ahead and scheduled an appointment with a cancer center in my community."
The dermatologist there diagnosed it as an early melanoma, and Kay had it removed a short time later. At his six-week follow-up visit the melanoma was no longer detected.
At the screenings, the dermatology residents are looking over all skin areas for the ABCD's — asymmetry, border, color and diameter. Other symptoms the residents ask about include itching, tenderness, bleeding, scaly appearance and redness or swelling beyond a mole.
"About 30 percent of the people who attend the Masonic Lodge screenings are advised by the medical staff to follow up with their doctor afterwards," explains dermatology resident, Anand Rajpara, M.D. "That has been life-saving advice for a number of people."
But the residents are screening for more than just skin cancer. Close to 250,000 new cases of prostate cancer are diagnosed each year, and the doctors are testing men in rural Kansas for signs of the disease.
Urology resident Andrew Arther, M.D., says prostate cancer symptoms can include an enlarged prostate or an overactive bladder. The prostate screenings involve an evaluation of nodules or other abnormalities. If any abnormalities are detected during the screening, a PSA, or Prostate-Specific Antigen, blood test is given on site to determine if the patient has elevated levels of the antigen, which can be a sign of prostate cancer.
Urology resident, Katie Murray, M.D., says the screenings she has attended have been a perfect opportunity to provide health education in smaller communities.
"Residents in smaller communities often don't have access to information that's often easily available in larger towns," explains Murray. "These screenings provide a very important public service."
"Year after year KU residents have helped out in every corner of our state," says MCA's medical director, Gary Doolittle, M.D. "The screenings would be nearly impossible to do without them."
The screenings help Kansas residents but they also are a learning opportunity for the new doctors.
"We are gaining knowledge every time we help at events like these," says urology resident Zach Hamilton, M.D. "It's also been a great way to get to learn more about the communities that are the backbone of the state."
In addition to hosting the screenings across the state, the Kansas Masonic Foundation has also been a major force behind funding cancer research at KU Medical Center. The foundation funded The Kansas Masonic Cancer Institute and developed health initiatives like the Bob Dole Prostate Cancer Research Fund and the Nurse Navigator and Psychosocial Oncology Endowments.
"I'm proud that our lodge provided this service for friends and neighbors in Pomona and surrounding communities," says Mason Don Willford. "It was great to work with the doctors from KU Medical Center and be part of something that helped out my hometown."
(Call 913-588-4719 for times and locations)
Aug. 23: Manhattan
Aug. 30: Walnut
Sept. 6: LeRoy
Sept. 13: Pittsburg
Sept. 20: Moran
Sept. 27: Goodland
Oct. 4: Louisburg
Oct. 11: Girard