Screening tests are a powerful weapon in the fight against breast cancer. Mammography is a breast cancer screening tool used to help doctors pinpoint when a change has occurred in a woman’s breast. In spite of these benefits, and in spite of having health insurance, too many women in Washington, D.C. are forgoing their annual mammograms out of fear. For the last two years, breast health navigators at MedStar Washington Hospital Center have been working passionately to reverse the trend. After first focusing on women in the District’s Ward 5 neighborhood, the hospital’s Get2Breast CARE program is expanding across the city into Wards 7 and 8, thanks to a generous $100,000 grant from the AVON Breast Cancer Crusade.
“Early detection and early treatment of breast cancer increases the chance of survival,” said Elmer Huerta, MD, MPH, director of the Cancer Preventorium at the Washington Cancer Institute at MedStar Washington Hospital Center. “It is shocking to see that 97 percent of women with advanced breast cancer treated at the Hospital Center have health insurance. This validates the need to offer breast health education in the community.”
Research led to a Successful Partnership
During Phase I of the program, as part of the Get2Breast CARE (Cancer Awareness & Resource Education in Ward 5) program, which was funded by the Avon Foundation for Women, breast health navigators surveyed 1,091 women over the course of a year, to find out what they know about breast cancer and breast cancer services and to know why they were postponing their mammograms in spite of having health insurance. Of the 1,336 personal opinions that were analyzed from the 31-question survey, 22.7 percent noted fear and 23.5 percent noted personal factors as reasons for delaying or skipping routine mammograms, the first line of defense to look for early signs of breast cancer. In their opinions, many respondents indicated fear of cancer, treatment, receiving bad news and abandonment, as well as personal reasons such as a busy lifestyle, no time to see a doctor, laziness and lack of preventative health education in their answers.
During Phase II of the study, also funded by the Avon Foundation, women told us that having more access to mammography facilities and more educational programs were important factors to increase the number of women getting checked.
Those successful outreach efforts have led the Avon Breast Cancer Crusade to award the Washington Cancer Institute another grant for the third year in a row, to provide more education, screening and patient navigation services to women not only in Ward 5, but also in Wards 7 and 8. The team will host educational events, mammography services and follow up care, if needed.
“Empowering women with life-changing knowledge about prevention, and teaching them how to use their health insurance coverage will make a difference,” added Dr. Huerta.