Free cancer screenings available for historic Monticello residents

By Marah Long
Contributing Writer
From 1941 to 1960, Monticello was home to a federally managed uranium mill. The mill used to take up residence on the south end of town in an area we now know as the Cancer Memorial Mill Site.
The mill site brought jobs and growth to the small town, but along with prosperity, it brought unknown and unwanted side-effects. Uranium has radioactive properties.
But in the discovery of the benefits uranium has to offer, no one knew that the material could also cause an array of different life-ending cancers, such as leukemia, myeloma, lymph, system cancers, lymphomas, thyroid, pulmonary, lung, brachial, renal cancers, or stomach cancers such as gallbladder or esophageal. 
Since the opening of the mill, Monticello has seen many examples of the dangers of radiation poisoning in friends and family who experience these effects. But now, through the Monticello Victims of Mill Tailings Exposure (VMTE), anyone who lived in Monticello from 1941 to 2002 is eligible to be screened for cancers related to the uranium mill.
Applications for screening can be found at The application process is quick and easy. It asks for proof of residence in the years 1941 to 2002. 
But what exactly does the screening process include? I visited the Monticello Clinic to talk with Dr. Michael Nielson about what patients can expect going into a screening.
Marah Long: So why should people go get screened?
Dr. Michael Nielson : Cancer’s a worry for our area, it has been for a long time. There is a high prevalence of cancer in our area than with others. This is an opportunity to at least open the door to catch cancer early. If there is cancer, the earlier we can catch it and find it, the better off our treatment options will be.
ML: What can patients expect in​​ the screening process?
MN: What we’re doing right now is a fairly light screening. We’ll continue to revamp the program as we go along. Right now, we try to first assess any symptoms that could be related to cancer. So have an interview with a doctor; talk about potential symptoms or things they are worried about such as stomach aches, pains, and diarrhea: anything like that and if they could be related to cancers. If there are symptoms we’ll see how we can follow them up with appropriate tests,
If not, we’ll do a physical exam to check for abnormalities related to cancer: things in the thyroid gland, or in the abdomen, or any lymph nodes or lymphadenopathy which are bumps under the skin. Any of those things we can find we’ll investigate further.
Otherwise we’ll do some lab testing, looking for a few specific types of cancer. Mostly blood-based cancers such as leukemia found in lab testing. We’ll do a chest x-ray and a urine test so patients should be prepared to give a urine sample. They help us look for abnormalities that can be associated with a specific type of cancer which has been associated with a variation called multiple myeloma.
ML: How many people have you helped with signs of cancer?
MN: The program is widespread. We have done a lot of screenings and that would be data we hope to collect as we move forward.
People don’t even necessarily need to come to our clinic, they can go to the clinic in Blanding. If a patient had lived in Monticello but now lives in Texas they can see their local doctor in Texas.
To my knowledge, there’s been no clear evidence of a cancer found so far, at least a new cancer. But we’re relatively new in the program so that data may still be coming forth.
ML: How do people access funds to pay for the screenings?
MN: The money comes through a voucher program. Basically we go to the health department in Blanding. I believe you can do it by phone or even online.
We go to the health department and answer a few quick questions: When did you live in Monticello? How long did you live in Monticello? Then from that we’ll determine if you lived in Monticello then you’re going to qualify.

San Juan Record

49 South Main St
PO Box 879
Monticello, UT 84535

Phone: 435.587.2277
Fax: 435.587.3377
Open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday