Since the van was first introduced in 2019, 1,359 patients have used the service
By Mary Beth Roach
It’s pink and blue. It’s 45 feet long and travels hundreds, if not thousands, of miles each year throughout Central and Northern New York to provide breast cancer screenings for women.
The Upstate University Hospital’s Mobile Mammography Van offers screenings at more than 20 locations throughout the region over the next six months.
From September to March 2022, it will have been to at least one community in the eight counties it serves — Onondaga, Oneida, Oswego, Madison, Herkimer, Lewis, Jefferson and St. Lawrence.
The goal is to reach more women and get more women screened “because we can go to them, instead of them having to come to us,” said Wendy Hunt, program manager.
The screenings are done in private on the van, using 3D mammography equipment, the same that’s used in Upstate’s breast imaging center, Hunt said. Results are usually available in two to 10 days.
Women, 40 or older, interested in a screening should make an appointment (contact information is below), although walk-ups with a doctor’s order for the mammogram may be able to be accommodated, if time allows, Hunt said.
The unit does mammogram screenings only. Women who have problems with their breasts should contact their physician.
Women need a doctor’s order for the mammogram. If they don’t have a primary care doctor or an OB-GYN, a nurse at the van can do a breast exam and obtain an order from one of the doctors for the mammogram.
The turnaround time for the order is quick, so the exam and screening can be done in all one visit. The screening process takes about 30 minutes with another 30 minutes if a breast exam needs to be done.
The van is climate-controlled. There’s a lift for those who have difficulties navigating stairs.
The Upstate team has provided for a very safe environment for the testing, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and its protocols.
Hunt said patients wait in their cars, instead of a waiting room, until they’re seen. If another patient is having a breast exam done while there’s a screening going on, the patients are in separate parts of the van. Their paths never cross.
While insurance should cover screenings, it’s suggested to check with the carrier to verify. Women without insurance or those who don’t have primary care providers are also eligible for a screening at the mobile unit. The staff will not only connect them with the New York State Cancer Services Program for payment, but will also connect them with a provider who can manage their care for the long term, Hunt explained.
The Cancer Services Program is by the New York State Department of Health. There is a Cancer Services Program in each county in the state. For women aged 40 and older, who don’t have insurance, the program will pay for a mammogram and clinical breast exam yearly, and will pay for follow-up services if needed. It also covers cervical and colorectal screening for people without insurance, Hunt added.
Since the van was first introduced in 2019, 1,359 patients have used the service. From June 2019, when it was first introduced, until December 2019, they saw 286 patients. In 2020, there were 539 patients and from January through mid-September of this year, there have been 534 patients.
They’re on pace to see an increase between 2020 and 2021.
“Our numbers are increasing. Of course I would love to provide this service to as many women as possible,” Hunt said.
That increase is, in part, due to the pandemic. They were off the road for 3-1/2 months in 2020. Hunt believes that another factor is the unit provides a safe option for patients, with its protocols. In addition, the van is traveling more extensively.
The unit has been very well-received by patients.
“We’ve such a wonderful response from our patients. They are so appreciative for the service. Some telling us that they would not have gotten a mammogram if we had not come to their town or to their employer,” Hunt said. “Our staff is very compassionate and warm with the patients. We get many amazing comments about them from the patients as well.”
Those interested in a screening need to pre-register. To arrange for an appointment, to check out their schedule this fall, winter and spring, or for organizations or employers inquiring about the unit visiting their locations, visit www.upstate.edu/mobile-mammography/ or call 315-464-2582.