By Pat Loeb

By Pat Loeb

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Philadelphians have an unusual opportunity to get screened for brain cancer, for free, thanks to a visit from a traveling brain scan unit.

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The scanner, or MRI, is housed in a 70-foot truck that will be parked in front of Comcast on JFK Boulevard in Center City, until Tuesday, October 20th, operating daily from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., by appointment.

This one-of-a-kind unit is part of an effort by the Brain Tumor Foundation to increase early detection of brain cancer.

Unlike many other cancers, there is no easy way to screen for brain tumors. Diagnostic MRI’s are lengthy and expensive. The mobile MRI, though, takes about 15 minutes and, the hope is, that will make it more affordable and accessible, particularly for people with a family history of brain cancer.

“We’re really just looking for the most glaring abnormalities,” says Eli Stavsky, a Columbia University researcher, gathering data on the screenings.

Columbia began working with the Foundation on a pilot project in 2008, travelling to various locations in New York City.

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This is the second stop on a national expansion of the program. Boston was the first. Foundation executive director Zessy Schnur says they saw 153 people in Boston and found seven abnormalities, three of which turned out to be tumors.

The hope is that early detection will lead to better outcomes.

“You usually detect a brain tumor because someone’s behavior has changed, or they have a seizure or they’re suffering from very, very severe headache,” says Schnur. “By the time they get to a doctor, the treatment options are narrow and the prognosis is not very heartening.

“The sooner someone gets treated, the better the options are for a good quality of life and, hopefully, prolonged survival.”

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The unit’s visit to Philadelphia is being sponsored by Debby and Jon Hirtle. Appointments can be made by calling 844-BTF-SCAN (844-283-7226).