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Mobile Mammography Goes Digital Thanks to Grant to Siteman Cancer Center

Gwen Ericson

Oct. 31, 2005 – Soon it will be possible for twice as many underserved women to be screened for breast cancer because of a grant to Dione Farria, MD, and Katherine Jahnige Mathews, MD, of the Siteman Cancer Center at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and Barnes-Jewish Hospital.

A grant from the Avon Foundation, an independent 501(c)3 founded by Avon Products Inc. in 1955, will fund the purchase of digital mammography equipment for a mammography van. The van will travel to Missouri regions with a high prevalence of breast cancers detected at an advanced stage. Patients will benefit from the digital technology, which has been shown to improve cancer detection over conventional film-based mammography in some women.

"We are tremendously excited about this opportunity to expand our outreach efforts in these areas," says Mathews, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology, who will head the initiative with Farria, assistant professor of radiology. "The grant makes it possible for us to do so much more to improve access to breast cancer screenings."

Using mammography vans to bring screening services to patients has proven especially important for rural women, who would otherwise need to drive a long way to a hospital, and to uninsured women, who might not seek out the service on their own. Program organizers aim to screen about 4,000 underserved women per year, double the number currently reached.

The van will serve the St. Louis inner city, Southeast Missouri Bootheel and rural counties surrounding the St. Louis metro area, regions with significant disparities in access to breast cancer care. Mammography screening rates in these areas are below the state average.

A geographic cluster in north St. Louis City and County has been found to have an increased prevalence of advanced breast cancer—women there were twice as likely as others in the state to be diagnosed with late-stage breast cancer. Lack of access to breast cancer screening contributes to this situation.

Rural Missouri women also suffer from lack of access to mammography, and the Bootheel region recently lost an important medical resource when its only mammography van was taken out of service.

Digital mammography can detect breast cancer better than conventional film-based mammography in women under 50, women who are premenopausal and perimenopausal and women with dense breast tissue. Program organizers estimate that at least half of the women in their target population will fall into one or more of these key groups.

Digital mammogram images will be interpreted by the radiology team in Washington University's Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology.

Farria is a breast imaging radiologist at the Institute who sees patients at the Joanne Knight Breast Health Center, and Mathews is a gynecologist at ConnectCare, part of the St. Louis region's health-care safety net. Together they codirect Siteman's Program for the Elimination of Cancer Disparities (PECaD). PECaD oversees outreach programs at Siteman and monitors Siteman's research, clinical and policy initiatives with an eye toward improving access and funding for underserved and minority patients.

Last updated 11/02/05