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FREE EXAMS FOR WOMEN; CAUSE OF HIGH CANCER RATE SOUGHT.

Byline: Robert Monroe Staff Writer

PANORAMA CITY - Teresa Torres got a Pap smear Tuesday because she knows it's important to her health - and it was free.

So far, the 59-year-old woman has beaten increased odds that local Latinas face for cervical cancer. The incidence of the preventable disease in the east San Fernando Valley has surpassed the national rate.

``This is important,'' Torres said in Spanish during her visit at the Mid-Valley Comprehensive Health Clinic. ``I want to live a long time.''

The free Pap smears are being offered until Monday in a first-ots kind effort to protect the health of the women and to uncover why the cervical cancer rate is nearly three times as high among Latinas in Los Angeles County as the national average. In addition, health officials want to make the test part of a comprehensive battery of preventive maintenance women can get every visit.

The second-deadliest cancer among women, cervical cancer affects about seven out of every 100,000 women in the United States. But in the east San Fernando Valley, it strikes about 12 out of 100,000, largely because of the Latina population, according to county statistics.

Among county Latinas, 20 out of every 100,000 will contract cervical cancer. Among African-Americans, the rate is 10.8 per 100,000 and among Asian-Americans, it is 9.5 per 100,000. Among white women, the rate is 6.9 per 100,000.

Cervical cancer is caused by the human papilloma virus and detected through microscopic examination of a swab of the cervix.

Theories about why minorities experience high levels of cervical cancer include that they lack access to health care and education, said Gretchen McGinley, chief executive officer of Valley Care Health Center, a network that includes the Mid-Valley center.

Mid-Valley's chief physician, Dr. Satwant Sithu, said she believes most Asian-American women with cervical cancer might be immigrants who are not aware of the available services.

Also, older low-income women don't get Pap smears because government health care focuses on prenatal programs and others targeting women of reproductive age, Sithu said. ``Beyond that age, there is hardly any funding through the state or federal government.''

McGinley suspects that many women don't realize they always can obtain Pap smears for free or almost no cost through the county.

In addition to a free Pap smear, Torres got another benefit during her visit: her first mammogram, largely at the urging of her daughter.

It's part of the county's effort to combine cervical cancer screening with other essential health services, including an assessment for risks of HIV infection, hypertension and other. So far, more than 150 women been screened at Mid-Valley.

Officials said the comprehensive approach is necessary just in case there's never a second visit.

``We're trying to the greatest extent possible not to be fragmented,'' said McGinley.

FREE TESTS

Free cervical cancer screenings are available until Monday at the Mid- Valley Comprehensive Health Center in Panorama City, the San Fernando Health Center in San Fernando and High Desert Hospital in Lancaster. They also are available Friday only at 27 other county health locations. To schedule a free Pap smear, call (800) 793-8090.

CAPTION(S):

photo, box

Photo: Nurse practitioner Guadalupe Allard examines Teresa Torres' chart before her free Pap smear on Tuesday.

Tina Burch/Staff Photographer

Box: Free tests (see text)
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Statistical Data Included
Date:Jan 26, 2000
Words:556
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