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.
There are both cultural and financial reasons that women do not seek mammograms. 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. Novant Health has a three-year long-term goal to increase the percentage of all women who receive mammograms. (To find a Novant Health mammography location, click here.)
‘We can help’
Novant Health recognizes that there are numerous factors that contribute and is dedicated to understanding these communities’ cultures and financial needs to close the gap. Susana Diaz, a bilingual community patient service coordinator in Charlotte, said Spanish-speaking women do not seek preventative care for several reasons – cost, transportation and fear of the procedure, as well as language barriers. Being able to relate to them 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 healthcare,” Diaz 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 (NHCPED) 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.
The use of two mobile mammography units in Charlotte and two in the Winston-Salem area 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
Annual breast health education and ongoing annual screenings have resulted in decreasing rates of late stage breast cancer, said Maria Kuklinski-Long, manager of the NHCPED program. Long said grant funding from organizations like Pfizer and the Susan G. Komen Foundation allows Novant Health to help low-income and uninsured women.
“The cost of a mammogram can be concerning for our patients,” said Hazel Willis, a community engagement specialist at Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center Imaging. “Our grant funding allows patients not to worry about money. Getting care is most important.”
In 2019, the Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center Foundation received grant funding from the Susan G. Komen Foundation, National Breast Cancer Foundation, Pfizer Inc., and Novant Health Physician Impact Fund. This money supports breast health services in Charlotte, Huntersville, Matthews and Mint Hill. As a result, Novant Health provided 986 low-income, uninsured participants with screening services at 48 community events. “This long-term funding has made a tremendous impact in helping to reduce late-stage breast cancer diagnoses in our community,” Kuklinski-Long said.
Novant Health is also able to provide these services in Winston-Salem and Rowan County, due to grant money from Pfizer. Pfizer funding enables staff to provide dozens of screening mammograms to underserved residents throughout Forsyth and surrounding counties.
Find a 3D Mammogram Imaging Center near youAct now
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
TOP PHOTO: Breast health educator Willie Adams helps a patient prepare for their mammogram.