Breast Cancer Awareness month is in full swing with walks, runs and no shortage of pink products for purchase. But the Scan Van in New York City has been pulling in women right off the street for mammograms.
Among the food trucks and street artists, the Scan Van parks on a different street every day and encourages women to walk in and get mammograms right on the truck — or make an appointment to get one later.
Half of the patients who walk into the truck have no insurance and no way to pay for such screening services at a doctor’s office. But the van’s services are free.
“We’re serving an underserved population, and we make it really convenient because we’re pulling up to where she’s already going to be,” said Mary Solomon, the Scan Van’s program director.
Patricia Yamada, a 65-year-old Manhattan resident, appraoches her last week of radiation treatment next week. The Scan Van caught her cancer last year.
“They saved my life. I would not be here without them and the whole program,” Yamada said.
Yamada had not had a mammogram in six years and had no health insurance.
“I saw in a newsletter that the Scan Van was coming to my neighborhood, within walking distance,” Yamada said.
After the doctor at the Scan Van told her something “abnormal” had turned up in her mammogram, the organization placed her with a hospital that could provide her with care and help her with grants to pay for further services to treat what turned out to be cancer.
Yamada went through surgery, chemotherapy and now, at the end of her treatment, said she’s cancer free.
The current Miss USA, Alyssa Campanella, has been at the Scan Van this month, urging women to go inside and get a mammogram. She told ABCNews.com that she had come across many women who ordinarily would never have gotten a mammogram decide to come in for testing because of the no cost and convenience.
“We were parked on 18th Street the other day when I saw two women looking curiously at the van. I told them what we were doing and come to find out they were looking desperately for help getting a mammogram — they had both done self-exams and found lumps but didn’t have any insurance or a way to pay for the service.”
The world of breast cancer screening was turned upside down when the U.S. Preventivr Services Task Force, which is part of the Department of Health and Human Services, released new recommendations in 2009 saying that women should have mammograms only once every two years once they’d passed the age of 50. It also recommended against breast self-exams, saying yearly exams resulted in too many false positives.
Immediately, such organizations as the American Cancer Society spoke out against the new recommendations and suggested that women over 40 should still get annual mammograms and do breast self-exams. But the USPSTF stood by its 2009 findings in its 2011 screening guide.
ABC News reported on a Swedish study in June that suggested mammograms did save lives. The longest-running breast cancer study followed more than 100,000 women for 29 years. The researchers found that seven years of mammograms equaled 30 percent fewer breast cancer deaths when compared with women who did not receive mammograms at all.
A radiologist for the Scan Van, Dr. Richard Stapen, who has reviewed hundreds of abnormal mammogram X-rays over the past six years, told ABCNews.com that the many breast cancers he found were because the women had come in earlier rather than later. The Scan Van suggests that women over the age of 40 should get mammograms once a year.
“Some cancers are so aggressive that if they don’t get diagnosed in a certain time frame, it could be horrible outcome,” Stapen said. “The key is finding the cancer as soon as you can. That’s why we like to screen starting at age 40.”
Stapen said the most devastating cancers statistically happen between the ages of 40 and 50.
“One fourth, or 50,000 of all diagnosed cases in a year, occur between age 40 and 50, so that’s 50,000 women who if they’d waited, wouldn’t be diagnosed until age 50,” Stapen said. “I’m sure if you’re one of these 50,000 diagnosed women, you’re happy you had a mammogram between 40 and 50.”
The Scan Van program, currently in its 24th year, credits itself with finding 732 cancer cases.
As she approaches her final week of radiation treatment, Yamada said all she can think about is writing thank-you notes to the organization that she believes saved her life.