The James Mobile Mammography Unit Provides Convenience, Quality Care to Community

James Mobile Mammography

The women arrive, like clockwork, every 15 minutes and enter the spacious and advanced mobile mammography unit parked outside the Franklin County Board of Developmental Disabilities (FCBDD).

“Go to the dressing room on the right, remove all your clothes from the waist up and put on the gown, open to the front,” says Nira Pullien, who drives the unit and registers the 21 women that Nancy Holmquist, a certified radiological technologist, will screen today.

Pullien asks each woman if they have any deodorant, lotion or powder in their armpit areas.

“Of course I have on deodorant,” one woman says, a little taken aback by the question. Pullien explains that deodorant, lotion and powder “can mimic breast cancer” and make it hard to read the X-ray. She tells the woman there are wipes in the changing area that she can use to remove the deodorant.

The woman chuckles and heads to the dressing room.

The James Mobile Mammography unit of The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James) has been screening women for breast cancer since 1988. The unit crisscrosses Ohio, parking and setting up its mobile breast cancer screening practice at companies, county health offices, at festivals and many other places and events.

Nira Pullien

“We travel all over Ohio, everywhere except the Cleveland area,” Pullien says, adding she and Holmquist will soon be going on a four-day road trip to Midmark Corp. in Versailles, Ohio, and will screen some of the company’s employees. Soon after, they’re headed to an AEP facility in West Virginia, one of the few out-of-state trips they make.

“We do a lot of county health departments in more rural areas,” she says. “And we’re doing more and more for underserved populations, for the Nepali and Somali communities and for Spanish-speaking women.” Interpreters, either on the phone or in the mobile mammography unit, help Pullien communicate with and register the women who don’t speak English.

“Some of these women are a little hesitant,” Pullien says. “Some of them are in their 60s and have never had a mammogram or don’t even know what it is.”

Pullien and Holmquist are quite good at calming nervous women, no matter the language they speak.

“I talk to them calmly and reassure them and engage them in conversation,” Holmquist says. “I explain the procedure and what they can anticipate.”

Pullien and Holmquist arrived at FCBDD at 6:30 a.m., and started screening women at 8 a.m.

“We like to get here at least an hour before we start,” Pullien explains. “We have to turn off the X-ray machine when we’re driving, and it takes an hour to get it warmed up and calibrated.”

And no, she says, it’s not hard to drive the large RV. It handles surprisingly well, except when it’s windy. “It’s a little harder to handle in the wind,” she says, adding she was a school bus driver for several years and also has a background in administration. This made her a perfect fit for the mobile mammography unit when she came to the OSUCCC – James about two years ago.

Wanda Kenty and Ginny Abbott of FCBDD are regular visitors to the mobile mammography unit. They know the procedure.

“I think this is my sixth time,” says Kenty, a transportation specialist. “I can only view my body from the outside, so any time I can see it from the inside, I’m all for it. This is peace of mind.”

Abbott, a teacher’s aide, battled colon cancer 31 years ago, and is diligent about getting her yearly mammogram. She understands the importance of screenings and early detection.

“As soon as they announce (the mobile mammography unit) is coming, I sign up,” she says. “It’s so much easier this way. I don’t have to schedule time off and leave work. It’s so easy and helpful.”

The James Mobile Mammography unit, like each of The James’ mammography locations, offers the latest digital mammography technology and is accredited by the American College of Radiology as a Breast Imaging Center of Excellence.

“My job is to take good pictures,” says Holmquist, who does just this 21 times a day, four days a week. But first, she gets each woman’s medical history and family history, and the name and contact information of the family physician or OB/GYN the results will be sent to.

Holmquist then puts a measuring device on each nipple and a marker on any raised moles or skin tags “so the radiologist (at the Stefanie Spielman Comprehensive Breast Center who reads the X-ray the next day) knows it’s on the surface and not inside the breast,” she says.

She then takes four “good pictures.”

The X-ray machine is upright for the first two, then Holmquist turns it to the left to get a side photo of the left breast and then to the right to get a side photo of the right breast.

The majority of the women they screen are covered by insurance. Some pay out of pocket; the cost is $135.

“And we can also offer free screenings for some women without insurance through our Center for Cancer Health Equity” says Carin Hill, coordinator of the mobile mammography program.

At the end of the day, Pullien and Holmquist return to campus, park the mobile mammography unit, and download all the data from the day’s screenings.

About 10 percent of the women screened come back for a follow up, Hill says. “But that doesn’t mean they have cancer. It’s just that we detected something that needs follow up, maybe an ultrasound or biopsy or a surgical consultation. And we try and do all that in one day here (at the Stefanie Spielman Comprehensive Breast Center) and answer all their questions. We want to make it easy for women.”


For more information on the James Mobile Mammography Unit or to schedule a mammogram with The James, call 614-293-4455.