Service on the go – Mobile cancer screening program saving lives
Story by Heather Kipling, AHS
Though she admits it’s not one of the most comfortable things she has ever done, May Ann Swanson is quick to point out that going for a screening mammogram has certainly been among the most important.
Now a regular patient when Screen Test’s mobile mammography units roll into Wainwright, Swanson couldn’t be happier with the service that provided early detection of breast cancer and gave her the best chances of a full recovery.
“I go every year and I swear by it,” says Swanson, who had both her mother and mother-in-law before her have lumps in their breasts detected by a mammogram. Swanson began using Screen Test’s mobile units in 2002. Only four years later, a screening mammogram detected the small lump in her breast, which was already spreading. “When the surgeon removed the lump, it also required the removal of 12 lymph nodes. If it hadn’t been found then, it could have been much worse for me.”
Providing early detection of breast cancer and other breast health concerns is at the very heart of Alberta Health Services’ Screen Test, which operates under the umbrella of the Alberta Breast Cancer Screening Program. Screen Test offers screening mammograms at two fixed locations — one in Edmonton and one in Calgary — and uses mobile units to visit more than 120 rural communities annually.
The mobile units are 53-foot semi-trailers, each one a self-contained screening facility complete with a reception room, dressing rooms and an exam room equipped with state-of-the-art digital mammography units.
“For women in rural communities, particularly those who do not have easy access to mammography facilities, the mobile units give them the ability to get the same service as women in larger centres without having to travel,” says Screen Test manager Joan Hauber. “We’re able to increase the number of women actually having regular mammograms and the more women who have regular mammograms, the better chance we have to detect cancers early. And early detection is so important. It can reduce the chance of dying from breast cancer by 30 per cent.”
Screening mammography is the only tool that has been proven to significantly reduce the mortality from breast cancer. A screening mammogram can detect a breast cancer up to two to three years before it would otherwise be detected by the patient or their doctor.
Screen Test targets women 50 to 74; when women in Alberta turn 50, they receive an invitation letter to undergo a screening mammogram. It is recommended women in the target age have a screening mammogram at least every two years.
For breast cancer survivors like Swanson, it’s a recommendation she champions. “It’s not the most comfortable thing you’ll ever do but it is so important for your health. It gives you the best chances,” she says. “I can’t say ‘thank you’ enough for what Screen Test did for me.”
Learn more about Screen Test.