COLUMBIA — The importance of life-saving breast examinations can be overshadowed by limitations on time and accessibility, especially for working women and those living in rural areas.
Early detection tests, such as mammograms, can help catch cancer in its early stages. Mammograms are recommended annually for women older than 40. Only skin cancer affects more Missouri women than breast cancer.
That’s why the Ellis Fischel Cancer Center began bringing the exams to patients with the center’s mobile mammography unit.
“It’s a 44-foot long van that’s a clinic on wheels,” said Jeff Hoelscher, media coordinator at MU Health Care.
Inside the van, a small waiting area holds a clerical desk and a built-in bench for waiting patients. A mammography machine is visible through a door in the back of the van, where a changing room is also located.
The well-equipped van allows nurses and radiology technicians “to perform examinations and mammographies on-site,” Hoelscher said.
The mobile clinic is part of Ellis Fischel’s outreach program and visits about 44 sites and 24 counties in Missouri.
The mobile mammography unit can be scheduled to visit any organization where screening services are not readily available, such as a community center or unequipped clinic where there is enough interest.
“It’s really very simple,” said Linda Groteweil, a registered nurse for cancer screening at Ellis Fischel.
Groteweil said the hospital coordinates with organizers to decide when and how often to bring the van.
The pre-scheduled visits allow women to receive care close to their homes.
Hoelscher said that to get to a screening without using the van, “if you’re an hour or two away from Columbia, you’d have to take the whole day off your job, or at least part of it.”
The mobile clinic also makes stops in Columbia.
This week, State Farm Insurance Co. had the van visit its business for employees.
Vicki Dawson, public affairs assistant at the State Farm, receives her yearly mammogram in the van in one of the company’s parking lots.
Dawson said the testing is quick.
“(I) get up from my chair, run outside to the van, 15 minutes later, I come back,” she said.
The option to sign up for the exams at work also serves as a reminder to get screened.
“If I didn’t have that benefit, I would forget to have the mammograms every year,” Dawson said.
Businesses can reserve the mammography mobile for free, and examination costs are determined by each individual’s insurance plan as they would in a standard examination room.
Women who are underinsured or uninsured and meet certain criteria can sometimes receive financial aid from Ellis Fischel, Groteweil said.
To request the van’s services, call 882-8511 or 888-MAM-VAN1.