Mammograms can catch cancer early and lead to life-saving treatment. But national statistics show that Hispanic and African American women are far less likely to receive the recommended annual screenings than white women.
A mammogram, an X-ray of the breast, is the most reliable way to find breast cancer early, when treatments are less invasive and survival rates are higher. While early detection and improvements in treatment have led to a decline in breast cancer mortality, not all women have benefited equally.
Novant Health data indicates that Asian and Hispanic patients, two of Charlotte’s fastest growing populations, get mammograms at a lower rate than other women. Both cultural and financial reasons factor into this, explained Susana Diaz, a bilingual community patient service coordinator at Novant Health.
"Spanish-speaking women do not seek preventative care for several reasons – cost, transportation and fear of the procedure, as well as language barriers," Diaz said.
‘We can help’
Being able to relate to patients allows Diaz to educate women who may not otherwise seek out annual breast cancer screenings.
"In the Hispanic community, people are still learning about the prevention side of health care," she said. "They usually only go to a doctor when they are sick or something is wrong."
To improve access to care and reduce breast cancer mortality, Novant Health Cancer Prevention, Education and Early Detection team members provide screening and diagnostic services with no out-of-pocket costs to patients, as well as referrals for patients who do not have a primary care provider.
“Some African American women I work with do not have a doctor at all,” said breast health educator Willie Adams. “They don’t know where to start. We can help.”
In addition to providing three-dimensional (3D) mammography to women 40 and older who are economically disadvantaged or uninsured, the program educates patients on the importance of breast health. Adams said this increases the likelihood that people will seek an annual mammogram or attend recommended follow-up services.
Mobile mammography units in Charlotte, Winston-Salem, Salisbury and Bolivia, North Carolina, allows Novant Health to provide outreach in historically Black or Hispanic communities.
“We meet them where they are,” Adams said. “We visit sites in their neighborhoods, where it’s convenient, and pay for the mammograms to eliminate some of those barriers to seeking care.”
Adams said some women are reluctant to get screened because they are unsure how they’ll care for treatment if they do find breast cancer or need a biopsy.
If breast cancer is detected, a breast cancer nurse navigator guides the patient through their care plan, including meeting with a breast center radiologist and discussing treatment plan options. Language services are provided to patients who do not speak English.
How grant funding makes it possible
By providing patient education and instruction, and grant funding for patients who are uninsured to receive mammography services, the Prevention and Early Detection program continues to assist in addressing early detection of breast cancer within the community. It provides support for low-income and uninsured women who might not get a mammogram because they are unable to afford it, said Barbara Lipira, senior director of cancer services at Novant Health Cancer Institute.
In 2021, the Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center Foundation received grant funding from the National Breast Cancer Foundation, Pfizer, Epic, the Novant Health Physicians’ Impact Fund, DeAngelo Williams Foundation and other private family foundations and individual donors.
“This long-term funding helped us provide 620 breast cancer screening services to low-income and uninsured participants in Mecklenburg and Union counties," Lipira said. "It's made a tremendous impact in helping to reduce late-stage breast cancer diagnoses in our communities."
Novant Health also provides breast health services in Forsyth, Rowan, Davidson and Brunswick counties thanks to support from Pfizer, Epic, the Louise Oriole Burevitch Endowment and others.
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Do I qualify?
Depending where you live, please contact the following people to find out if you qualify:
Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center
Willie Adams: 704-384-5250
Susana Diaz 704-384-8202 Spanish speaking
Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center
Hazel L. Willis 336-397-6035
Novant Health Rowan Medical Center
Kimberly Robinson 704-210-6908