It is 11:50 a.m. and Cheryl King is finishing up paperwork at Smithfield’s Farmland Food in Milan, Missouri. She checks the clock on her computer monitor and exhales slowly. Normally she’d be counting down the minutes to her lunch break, but today is different. Today, she is getting a breast cancer screening.
“I’ve lost several friends to breast cancer,” King said. “If you don’t pay attention to your health and stay on top of your doctor’s visits and mammograms, you’re putting yourself at risk. I may be almost 65 years old, but I’m not ready to give it up yet,” she said with a laugh.
Since 1992, MU Health Care’s mobile mammography van — or “mamm van” — has provided life-saving breast screenings to women throughout rural Missouri. King has used the service since it first started visiting her office.
“I used to have mammograms done at a regular doctor’s office,” King said. “They always wanted to do extra tests, which meant I’d have to lose a day of work. The mamm van is great because it comes to me and is so simple and convenient to use.”
Though she is no stranger to MU Health Care’s mobile mammography service, today is the first time King will be getting her screening in the new mammography van, introduced in March 2016. This van is a 38-foot clinic that provides women in rural areas access to the same mammography screening services available at Ellis Fischel Cancer Center, including 3-D mammography. The previous van, which was in service since 2005, only offered 2-D breast screening.
“Early diagnosis is where we have the most impact in cancer,” said Kevin Staveley-O’Carroll, MD, PhD, director of Ellis Fischel Cancer Center. “With 3-D imaging, we can more accurately identify cancers.”
With a private mammography suite and changing room, the van is designed with patient needs in mind. Appointments generally take 30 minutes from check-in to completion, and completed scans are sent to Ellis Fischel Cancer Center, where they are read by a certified breast imaging radiologist. If follow-up care is needed, the mamm van team contacts the patient to ensure she gets the appropriate care.
The all-female clinical staff aboard the van provides mammograms, clinical breast exams and breast health education to women throughout Missouri. In 2015, 2,940 screenings were performed on women from 49 counties.
“I’ve lost several friends to breast cancer. If you don’t pay attention to your health and stay on top of your doctor’s visits and mammograms, you’re putting yourself at risk. I may be almost 65 years old, but I’m not ready to give it up yet.”Cheryl King
That’s good news, according to statistics. Research from the University of Missouri’s Department of Rural Sociology found that women who travel more than 50 miles to see the doctor are 10 percent more likely to be diagnosed with late-stage breast cancer.
“Working on the van is a chance to get close to the patients,” said Diane McGann, a patient services representative and mamm van driver. “It’s a more personal, one-on-one experience.”
As the clock strikes 12:15 p.m., King saves her open computer document and heads out the side doors. She easily spots the bright pink van in the parking lot and takes determined strides toward the small set of stairs on the side of the van.
When the doors open, King is greeted by familiar smiling faces. Less than 30 minutes later, she is back at work and ready to finish out her day, knowing that she’ll receive her screening results in no more than 10 days.
“People often ask, ‘Does it hurt?,’ ” McGann said. “I tell them it may be uncomfortable, but in a matter of five minutes, you can save your life.”