Surviving breast cancer hinges on early detection. That's why the Swedish Cancer Institute is adding a second mobile mammography bus to reach out to the community instead of waiting for them to come in for a check up.
"The idea with the smaller coach is to get to the urban areas that the bigger coach does not reach," said Darlene Fanus, supervisor of the Mobile Mammography Services.
Mary Kelly, medical director of the Swedish Cherry Hill and Ballard breast centers said the buses are "making rolling house calls with advanced medical technology onboard." The buses provide the same mammography screening as one would receive at a doctor's office.
The mobile mammography bus will be making stops at the Holly Park Clinic in South on Dec. 15 and 22. For other times and locations, call 206-320-4760.
The new bus is more compact than the older models and easier to drive on city streets. The clinic-on-wheels features the latest equipment — paid for by contributions from local companies such as PACCAR, a heavy vehicle manufacturer.
The reason for Swedish Cancer Institute's focus on the urban areas in King County, staff members say, is that its high rate of racial and ethnic diversity traditionally translate into higher rates of preventable illness due to cultural barriers that can hamper residents' access to preventative health care.
Organizers say the bus already serves hard to reach rural areas, and the project has achieved significant success in screening Native American women in the western parts of the state.
Next, the bus will focus its efforts on the African American community – one of the hardest hit in terms of potentially-preventable fatalities.
According to Sisters Inc, a National African-American breast cancer survivorship organization, breast cancer is the most common cancer among Black women and the second most common cause of death.
The American Cancer Society also determined that while Black women have lower rates of breast cancer occurrence, their mortality rates are higher.
The American Cancer Society also reports that Black women, for unknown reasons, develop "more aggressive" tumors.
Experts estimate nearly 800 women overall will die from the disease in 2008 in Washington state.
"We try to get out there in the community, but African Americans [in general] don't liked to be screened," said Fanus. She attributes the higher mortality rate in part to the lower rate of regular mammograms conducted in the community.
Fanus says that while the second mammography bus will go into areas where Swedish has not provided service, they are still looking for the right approach to have women get checked for breast cancer.
"There is still some cultural mistrust of the medical system, health-care providers and services," said Fanus.
Fanus said that Swedish Cancer Institute follows the American Cancer Society's recommendations for routine mammograms, which is once a year for women over 40. Women under 40 are recommended to conduct self-exams and have a clinical breast exam every three years as part of their regular health checkup.
The mobile mammography bus can provide women with services beyond breast cancer screening. Fanus says that the bus can provide a full women's wellness exam and urged women to come whether they are currently insured or not.
"We will accept and bill their insurance if they have it," said Fanus. "But we also partner with other companies and can offer a free mammogram."
Fanus said that no appointment is necessary and while it is also helpful to bring any medical history, the important issue is "getting in to get checked out." She said that the mobile bus provides this to those who might not otherwise get screened.
The two mobile buses operate six days a week over Washington and partners closely with many community organizations. Swedish reaches out to provide services to many women who haven't had the recommended mammograms in three or four years.
In addition to the two mobile buses, Swedish also has four breast centers that provide mammography screening and services in Ballard, First Hill, Capitol Hill and downtown Seattle.
The first mobile mammography bus has logged over 40,000 miles since it went into service in 2004. That bus alone screened over 6,000 women in 2007. Swedish is looking to double that number with the addition of a second bus. Along with the Swedish Breast Centers, over 70,000 women have been screened since 1987.
The Swedish Cancer Institute said early detection is a key contributor to lowering the mortality rate of breast cancer. They have found that the survival rate is more than 90 percent when the disease is detected early.
For more information on the mobile mammography program or Swedish Breast Centers, visit http://www.swedish.org