Mammography has gone mobile

A lot of women in the tri-state go to St. Mary’s Breast Center to get their yearly mammogram screenings. But what some women may not know is that the breast center, located at 100 Epworth Crossing in Newburgh, offers a free mobile mammography service, in which a breast mammographer drives a van to convenient locations like churches or local businesses to screen women for breast cancer.

The mobile unit travels to sites across Evansville and Henderson and in Gibson, Spencer and Warrick counties. Currently, they are hoping to expand their services deeper into Warrick County.

Dr. Kathryn Bryan, one of the two primary radiologists at the breast center, said a mammogram is an X-ray image of ones breasts that shows areas where the breast tissue might be cancerous. She said women should get their first mammogram between the ages of 35 and 40 and then once a year after 40.

“Sometimes we have women that come in their 50s or 60s that skipped a couple of screenings,” Bryan said. “And they have cancer that would have been diagnosed in the early stages if they had come in earlier.”

But not all women have the ability to take off work or find a way to the breast center for their recommended screenings and that is where the mobile mammography unit comes in handy.

Vickie Detroy, director of the breast center, said the mobile mammography unit began in 2007 and is funded by the “Sharing the Vision: Early Detection of Breast Cancer” grant from the Greater Evansville Affiliate of the Susan G. Komen For the Cure Foundation and the Indiana Breast Cancer Awareness Trust “Power of Hope” grant.

“At the time,” she said, “it was determined there was an extraordinary need for more screenings for women living in rural, low income areas who don’t have the ability to travel to the breast center.”

Bryan, who began working at the breast center in August 2010, had never had a mobile unit at any of the past hospitals she’d worked at and thought the innovative approach was a wonderful outreach.

“I thought it was wonderful that they were able to obtain mammograms from women inside the community or outside that cannot physically come to the breast center,” Bryan said.

The heart and soul of the mobile unit is breast mammographer Bridget Meeks, who was the first person to volunteer to be the mammographer for the mobile.

Meeks said she volunteered because she enjoys getting out in the community and serving.

“It means a lot,” she said. “It’s very rewarding. It’s a blessing.”

In the past year, Meeks has screened 2,184 women with the help of Lisa Merriman, administrative assistant of St. Mary’s mobile mammography, who registers the patient and helps with any other clerical work needed.

Meeks and Merriman go out in the mobile unit four days a week, usually starting around 7:30 a.m. and come back to the breast center around 3 p.m.

Bryan said they come back with anywhere from six to 40 mammograms for her and her counterpart, Dr. Charles Lackey, to read.

Each day, Meeks and Merriman go to one scheduled site and set up the equipment in the actual site. Meeks gives one mammogram every 15 minutes and hands out pamphlets on breast cancer education and awareness to the women.

Meeks has worked with the mobile unit for almost 10 years now and said the thousands of women she has screened are very thankful they have the ability to get their mammograms taken at their place of work or somewhere more convenient to them than the breast center.

Detroy said the most incredible thing about the mobile unit is that more cases of breast cancer have been identified from screenings taken with it than from those done at the breast center.

Bryan said it makes her feel gratified knowing she is able to diagnose cases of breast cancer in women who may not have come in to the breast center and could have gone undiagnosed.

If a woman is diagnosed with cancer, Dr. Bryan, Dr. Lackey and a team of St. Mary’s doctors, including pathologists, surgeons, oncologists and radiation therapists, meet together during Tumor Board every Friday at 7 a.m. in the main hospital to discuss the best treatment plan for the patient.

Detroy said a collaborative survey was done by St. Mary’s, Deaconess, Echo Clinic and the City of Evansville and found that there was an extreme need for more mammogram screenings in Warrick County. She said some of the areas they are looking to expand in Warrick County include Chandler and Lynnville and that they already found a church near Gentryville they thought would make a good mobile site.

“The mobile has always been well received,” Detroy said. “Women really appreciate the convenience of it. Especially for those that don’t have insurance.”

If someone would like to schedule a mammogram at Northbrook or an upcoming site in their area, they can call 812-485-4437.

Marisa Patwa is a graduate of the University of Evansville with a degree in journalism and minor in political science.

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