Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Free mammograms, Pap smears saving lives, but few know of service

Pat Underwood, 62, found a cyst in one of her breasts and precancerous cells when she got a free mammogram and Pap smear at a Meditech Medical Center clinic last year.


Pat Underwood, 62, found a cyst in one of her breasts and precancerous cells when she got a free mammogram and Pap smear at a Meditech Medical Center clinic last year.

TAMPA — Last year, Pat Underwood was too tired to get another job and too young for Medicare.

So doctor visits took a back seat — until a friend told the retiree about free breast and cervical screenings at a local clinic.

Underwood, now 62, set an appointment last year for her first mammogram in four years.

Today, she says, the free exam proved crucial in her health.

Examiners found a lump in one of her breasts, and later a Pap smear revealed precancerous cells that she wouldn't have known about otherwise.

"I really wanted to know," Underwood said. "Do I have cancer? Now I want everyone to know about this service."

Free mammograms, like the one Underwood received, have caught at least 13 people in Tampa with cancer out of 300 screened in two years, said Estrella Clement, a nurse who works with Meditech Medical Center clinics, which offer the free services.

Many more have likely been diagnosed in the 15 years since the program has existed at other clinics in Florida.

The problem is that many women don't know about the service, Clement said.

Orlando de la Paz, director of Meditech, said the services are part of an effort to establish a preventive medical network.

"We are always trying to help," said de la Paz. The centers offer community health fairs, targeting specific health risks such as diabetes and providing low-cost services to people who are underinsured and uninsured.

Locally, three Meditech offices — two in Tampa, one in Brandon — offer the free mammograms and Pap smears to women ages 50 to 64. Several grants, including the state's Florida Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program, pay the expenses.

The early detection program, established in 1994, is funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at $3.9 million annually, and Medicaid at $2.7 million annually.

Underwood, who lives in Carrollwood, had worked as a telemarketer selling magazines before retiring. She was nervous about skipping routine care but hoped to skim through without mammograms till age 66, when she will be eligible for Medicare.

"I was suffering in silence, not knowing because it cost too much," she said. "If it doesn't say free, I couldn't go."

At the clinic last year, doctors found a lump in her breast, which turned out to be a cyst, and precancerous cells after a Pap smear.

"A person with precancerous cells has a very good chance that it will come back," de la Paz said. It's important to monitor levels with annual exams, he said

Underwood was treated at H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute. The treatment was also free through the early detection program.

Aside from the state funding, Clement pulls together grant money and negotiates deals for the program with providers such as Bayview Radiology, which analyzes test results without making a profit. Also, the Tampa chapter of Sisters Network Inc., a national organization for African-American breast cancer survivors, funneled grant money it received to local Meditech centers.

Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer among women, according to the National Cancer Institute. Early detection, sometimes even before tumors can be felt, increases chances of successful treatment. In 2005, Florida had 2,663 deaths due to breast cancer. The institute recommends mammograms every one to two years for women 40 and older.

As for Underwood, follow up tests this year came back clear.

All told, she suspects the tests would have cost her thousands of dollars — if she had ever taken them in the first place.

She plans to use the free service for a checkup next year. Meanwhile, knowing she is cancer free gives her peace of mind.

Elisabeth Parker can be reached at or (813) 226-3431.

Who's eligible

Women may qualify for a free mammogram, breast examination and Pap smear if they are:

• Ages 50 to 64

• Are underinsured or have

no insurance

• Make less than 200 percent

of the poverty level (about $19,000 for a single person or $40,000 for a family of four).

• Participating Meditech clinics are at 7208 N Sterling Ave., Tampa; 4714 N Armenia Ave., Suite 100, Tampa; or 1783 S Kings Ave., Brandon. For appointment, call toll-free, 1-877-933-3060.

Free mammograms, Pap smears saving lives, but few know of service 04/23/09 [Last modified: Thursday, April 23, 2009 4:30am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Car bomb kills 13, injures 24 in Baghdad; Islamic State claims responsibility


    BAGHDAD — A car bomb exploded outside a popular ice cream shop in central Baghdad just after midnight today, killing 13 people and wounding 24, hospital and police officials said.

  2. Leaping shark floors angler in Australia


    In The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway's protagonist battles for three days to pull in his prized catch. For Terry Selwood, it came a little more suddenly.

    A 9-foot shark lies on the deck of a fishing boat at Evans Head, Australia on Sunday. Fisherman Terry Selwood said he was left with a badly bruised and bleeding right arm where the shark struck him with a fin as it landed on him on the deck. [Lance Fountain via AP]
  3. Rays rally twice to beat Rangers (w/video)

    The Heater

    ARLINGTON, Texas — Starting Erasmo Ramirez on Monday after he closed out Sunday's marathon win turned out, despite the Rays' best intentions and rigid insistence, to be a bad idea as he gave up four runs without getting through three innings.

    Erasmo Ramirez, starting a day after closing a 15-inning marathon, struggles against the Rangers and comes out after throwing 43 pitches in 21/3 innings.
  4. Britain investigating missed signals over Manchester bomber


    LONDON — Britain's domestic intelligence agency, MI5, is investigating its response to warnings from the public about the threat posed by Salman Abedi, the suicide bomber who killed 22 people and wounded dozens more in an attack at a crowded Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England, last week.

    People gather Monday at St. Ann’s Square in Manchester, England, to view tributes to victims of the suicide bombing that killed 22 on May 22 as a concert by Ariana Grande was concluding.
  5. Trump condemns killing of pair who tried to stop racist rant


    The mayor of Portland, Ore., on Monday urged U.S. officials and organizers to cancel a "Trump Free Speech Rally" and other similar events, saying they are inappropriate and could be dangerous after two men were stabbed to death on a train as they tried to help a pair of young women targeted by an anti-Muslim tirade.

    Coco Douglas, 8, leaves a handmade sign and rocks she painted at a memorial in Portland, Ore., on Saturday for two bystanders who were stabbed to death Friday while trying to stop a man who was yelling anti-Muslim slurs and acting aggressively toward two young women. From left are Coco's brother, Desmond Douglas; her father, Christopher Douglas; and her stepmother, Angel Sauls. [Associated Press]