Mobile mammography project brings benefits to Philadelphia community

By Danuta Terlecka

July 7, 2022 -- For U.S. women who face barriers to accessing breast cancer screening, bringing mammography to the community is a way to remove barriers and deliver diagnostic care to underserved communities.

One such project was recently launched in Philadelphia by Siemens Healthineers, working in collaboration with Penn Medicine/University of Pennsylvania and the Church of Christian Compassion in Philadelphia. The goal is to use mobile mammography to achieve equal healthcare for every woman.

The mammography initiative offers specific benefits for women ages 40 and older living in West Philadelphia for whom there are obstacles to annual breast cancer detection. The free screenings kicked off on Sunday, June 12 with a health fair and continued until Friday, June 24.

West Philadelphia mobile mammography service
The mobile mammography service was a joint project between Siemens Healthineers and Penn Medicine/University of Pennsylvania and the Church of Christian Compassion in Philadelphia. This was the second collaboration between Siemens Healthineers and Penn Medicine, with the first being in October 2021.

Response in the Philadelphia community to the mobile mammography initiative was impressive with over 180 breast examinations performed over a nearly two-week period. The popularity of the project underlines that some communities remain outside the margins of the healthcare system and are not receiving appropriate diagnostic care when it comes to breast cancer.

Sobering statistics

The following statistics around breast cancer, particularly with the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic, are sobering:

  • One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer, according to the American Cancer Society.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in an 8% decline in breast screening rates in communities of color, says the American Cancer Society.
  • There was a 38% decline in screening-detected breast cancers with the onset of the pandemic, with the majority of women affected being members of minority groups, according to a paper published in Radiology in 2022.

At the Church of Christian Compassion in Philadelphia, discussions in the church community gave rise to the realization that there were unmet healthcare needs among many community members, explained Terrilynn Donnell, associate pastor.

"We were seeing a lot of people in our community that do not necessarily have a primary physician," Donnell said. "They use the emergency room as their primary contact with healthcare. They were not getting screenings or regular check-ups or preventative healthcare. There were disparities in healthcare."

The church recognized that these disparities represented an opportunity as its mission is to focus on the overall wellness of members of the community.

"We're not only concerned with their spiritual life, but we're also concerned with their whole life -- that is, physically, mentally, financially, and emotionally," she said.

Together, the Church of Christian Compassion and Penn Medicine got the word out to the community about the mobile unit through social media channels, flyers, and word of mouth. Once the mobile unit was in action, women who underwent mammograms were encouraged to refer their friends, coworkers, and family members to visit the mobile mammography unit as well.

Donnell noted that some women who underwent mammograms through the mobile unit had never had one before, and they were already 70 years old and older.

"One woman told me that she had been scared to have a mammogram," Donnell said. "This project was a major accomplishment and a great success. It was an opportunity for women who were putting off screening, or who were nervous about it, or who did not have health insurance, to get screened."

Disparities affect women of color

Indeed, disparities in healthcare disproportionately affect women of color, according to Dr. Linda White Nunes, vice chair of inclusion, diversity, and equity and associate professor of clinical radiology at Penn Medicine/University of Pennsylvania.

"We are trying to overcome what are termed 'social determinants of health' that are thought to keep individuals from accessing healthcare," said Nunes, who was on site for several days of the two-week mobile project and was very encouraged by the community response. "Things like finances, a lack of insurance, a lack of trust, a lack of a primary care provider, or a lack of transportation are barriers. We wanted to get beyond these barriers so women can get screened."

The COVID-19 pandemic has also served to keep women away from healthcare facilities, delaying annual breast-cancer screening, Nunes said.

"We definitely have been finding, because of COVID, that there has been decreased screening," she said.

Even though the project was mobile, it did not mean the quality of the diagnostic tools was less than optimal, Nunes pointed out.

"This is state-of-the-art technology to screen women," she said. "This is the same technology that would be found in the hospital."

The mobile mammography service featured the latest in breast imaging technology.
The mobile mammography service featured the latest in breast imaging technology.

Once screening was conducted at the mobile unit, women received their results within days directly from a radiologist, Nunes noted.

The organizers plan to make this mobile mammography project an annual event.

"This turned out to be the perfect combination of community, technology, and medicine," Nunes said. "It was a great example of partners working together."

Democratizing healthcare

That sentiment was echoed by executives from Siemens Healthineers, which provided mammography equipment and other support. The company is dedicated to democratizing healthcare in the radiology space, according to David Pacitti, president and head of the Americas at Siemens Healthineers North America.

"The participation of Siemens Healthineers in this mobile mammography screening initiative illustrates our steadfast commitment to ensuring greater healthcare access for everyone, everywhere," Pacitti said.

Abby Weldon, senior director of the women's health business at Siemens Healthineers North America agreed and said, "This mobile mammography initiative with Penn Medicine will provide low-income and minority women in the Philadelphia area with access to the kinds of early detection resources that can save lives."

"We are hopeful that efforts such as these will draw much-needed attention to the urgent need to eliminate disparities in cancer detection, care, and outcomes among underserved communities," Weldon said.

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