Mobile Mammography Units Meet Women Where They Live

OSUCCC – James Mobile Mammography Unit

In addition to self-breast exams, mammograms are one of the most effective, affordable and convenient ways to detect breast cancer. For most women, scheduling a mammogram has become customary.

But for a segment of the female population – predominantly minority women and those who live in underserved communities – having a mammogram is anything but routine.

That’s because these women are uninsured or underinsured, or they lack access as they don’t have the transportation and child care needed to even think about making an appointment. In addition, because of language or cultural barriers, some aren’t aware of or don’t understand the importance of early breast cancer detection, said Chasity Washington, director of the Center for Cancer Health Equity (CCHE) at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James).

Across the nation and locally, racial health disparities are prevalent. A report from Susan G. Komen Columbus found that while female breast cancer incidence rates in Franklin County were similar between African-Americans and whites, the breast cancer mortality rates were 41 percent higher for African-American women. The late-stage diagnosis rates were 22 percent higher for African-American women.

But in partnership with the CCHE at the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center, the James Mobile Mammography Unit is attempting to eliminate these obstacles, one at a time. The mobile unit reaches these women in their own neighborhoods throughout the urban areas of central Ohio and rural communities in the southeast part of the state, Washington said.

The mobile mammography unit has been screening women for breast cancer since 1988, traveling to businesses, county health clinics, festivals and other venues.

In the past year, 865 women have been screened for breast cancer in minority and underserved communities – 427 in urban communities in the central Ohio area and 438 in rural/Appalachian communities primarily in Southeast Ohio, which have no hospital and no standing mammography facilities.

In central Ohio, five high-risk areas – those with higher breast cancer mortality rates – have been identified where the mobile unit travels, including North Linden, Whitehall, Northeast Columbus, Forest Park and Southeast Columbus, serving Nepali, Somali, Bhutanese and Spanish-speaking populations.

The mobile unit visits churches, mosques, Faith Mission, the Asian Festival, food pantries, laundromats, Equitas Health – a health-care organization that focuses primarily on the LGBTQ community – as well as other free clinics.

“We are fortunate to have this unit so we can go to them, because they won’t come to us,” Washington said. “They feel safe.”

The mobile unit is out in communities every weekday. Some days, depending on demand, two units travel throughout the state. Patients are seen every 15 minutes from 9 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. The units are staffed by a licensed technician and a driver, who also assists with getting women registered. Sometimes, a staff person from CCHE will ride along and help with interpreting.

While the mobile mammography unit makes breast cancer screenings more accessible, it’s up to women to schedule an appointment. This requires a lot of planning and prep work involved before that happens, Washington said.

“They hear about us through other health awareness programs offered by the Center for Cancer Health Equity or through friends and family,” she said. The center also assists with interpreters, arranging transportation and connecting women with appropriate social service organizations if needed.

But the outreach doesn’t stop there. If a woman’s test results are positive, or even inconclusive, they need follow-up care.

“We are engaging hard-to-reach women, and we also follow them along the continuum of care,” Washington said. If results warrant further diagnostic testing, the center helps women navigate that process as well.

For more information on the mobile unit or to schedule a mammogram at The James, call 614-293-4455.