Despite free screening programs and multifaceted public awareness campaigns every October, many women in this region are not getting their recommended annual mammograms.
The just-released Community Needs Assessment shows 57 percent of women age 40 and older are getting the annual screenings, said John Moryken, Conemaugh Health System vice president for business development and government affairs.
Conemaugh sponsored the assessment survey in partnership with United Way of the Laurel Highlands.
“One of the findings was that mammogram rate was lower in Somerset and Cambria counties than the national average,” Moryken said, noting that the national rate is 68 percent of women who meet the American Cancer Society recommendations for annual screenings.
“We need to increase the awareness that individuals should get an annual mammogram,” he said.
Conemaugh is using this month’s breast cancer awareness events to launch an ongoing campaign to encourage screenings, Community Wellness Director April Behory said.
“We are really looking at October as our dive-in,” Behory said. “If we are to really get this out to the public, it’s important year-round.”
At Joyce Murtha Breast Care Center in Windber, leaders have taken steps to help women take time for their own preventive care, director Patty Felton said. The Windber Medical Center facility is ramping up a new computer system designed for breast centers.
The software will allow Windber staff to track patients’ care, sending out reminders for mammograms and allowing patients to see results online.
“Women in general are busy,” Felton said. “They do a better job of taking care of everybody else. This is helping us help them.”
Continuing a theme introduced last year, Windber is encouraging women to take the Pink Pledge featured on the hospital website: www.windbercare.org/jmbcc_pinkpledge.asp. Those taking the pledge promise to get their mammograms and annual clinical breast exams from a doctor and to encourage other women to have the screenings.
“We are trying to reach as many women as possible,” Felton said.
Conemaugh is offering emailed reminders not only for annual mammograms, but also for monthly breast self-exams.
The numbers don’t look good in Indiana County either, said Sue Marjoris, women’s health nurse navigator at Indiana Regional Medical Center.
About 7,000 women get mammograms at the hospital’s five screening locations each year, but the county’s eligible population is about 22,000, Marjoris said.
Hospitals are trying to make it easier and more comfortable to get the screenings. All stress the availability of financial assistance.
“We can help them if they are afraid or don’t have the financial means,” Marjoris said.
Windber and Conemaugh also provide free screenings for income-eligible women.
“There is no reason any woman who meets the guidelines in western Pennsylvania shouldn’t have a mammogram,” Felton said.
If the cost of follow-up screenings, surgery and therapy is a barrier, Felton said, there is help for those costs as well.
“They just simply need to call us,” Felton said. “We have the Pink Ribbon Care Fund for assistance with MRI tests, extra doctors’ visits and related health services. There are state programs to help once you are diagnosed. We can help you navigate those programs.”
The latest in digital mammography machines have improved the comfort of the test with better padding and a shorter time in the machine, Behory said.
“Testing is actually much quicker and safer, with less radiation,” Behory said. “People are really in and out the door very fast.”
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