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Mammo Bus Brings Breast Cancer Screening to American Indian Women

Posted on by DCPC
Photo of the mobile mammobus
The Mobile Mammo Bus at the Fond du Lac reservation on August 2, 2016.

Breast cancer is the number one diagnosed cancer and the second leading cause of cancer death among American Indian/Alaska Native women. Screening mammograms for breast cancer can catch it early, when it is easier to treat, yet several things stand in the way of American Indian women getting these life-saving tests at the recommended time.

A group of partners in and around the Fond du Lac reservation in Minnesota has made strides toward changing that by bringing no-cost mammograms to American Indian women in a unique way: by bringing screening directly to the women. This approach is made possible through funding from CDC’s National Comprehensive Cancer Control Program (NCCCP). Fond du Lac is one of seven tribal communities throughout the United States funded by the NCCCP.

The Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Human Services Division Medical Clinic works with the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community Mobile Mammography Unit, Minnesota’s Sage Breast and Cervical Cancer Screening Program, the American Indian Cancer Foundation, and the American Cancer Society to bring a bus carrying mammography equipment right where it is needed most. The bus spends three days a year at the Min No Aya Win health care center on the Fond du Lac reservation and two days a year in the nearby city of Duluth.

More than 650 women have been screened for breast cancer over the nine years that the program has been in place.

Often, says DeAnna Finifrock, a public health nurse on the Fond du Lac reservation, American Indian women have family and work responsibilities that take priority over taking care of their own health. “Helping women in any way possible to access these services in a convenient and culturally appropriate method is important for them taking part in these types of cancer screenings,” Finifrock says.

“The mobile unit resonates throughout the community here. Someone says, ‘Make sure you go and get your mammogram; you’re treated respectfully.’”

The Mobile Mammo Bus program does this in several ways. First, having a unit that comes to women instead of them having to leave the reservation to get a mammogram makes it more likely that they will get screened. Many women work regular daytime hours and can’t get to a clinic because of their jobs.

“So a simple mammogram appointment in a clinic outside the reservation requires them to take leave and can take up to four hours of their work time to complete,” says Denise Houle, a cancer outreach worker on the Fond du Lac reservation. That could mean inconvenience at the least, and possibly lost wages.

Transportation to outside screening centers also can be a problem for some of the women. As part of the mobile program, community health workers are sent out to bring women to the bus.

In addition to being accessible, it is important, Finifrock says, for the atmosphere to be comfortable and culturally sensitive. The bus is staffed by clinic workers who are familiar to patients. Volunteers take the opportunity to educate women about other cancer-related health issues, like colorectal cancer screening and quitting smoking, using materials with themes that are familiar in Ojibwe culture throughout northern Minnesota. Women who get screened fill out surveys afterward and are entered into daily drawings to win prizes.

The strategies have paid off. Now, news about the bus passing through the community comes by word of mouth. And last year, outreach workers began to call women individually to remind them about screening, which has increased attendance.

“The mobile unit resonates throughout the community here,” says Houle. “Someone says, ‘Make sure you go and get your mammogram; you’re treated respectfully and treated like a person.’”

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Posted on by DCPC

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