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SALT LAKE CITY — An annual mammogram is the best way to detect breast cancer early, according to Dr. Brett Parkinson, medical director at Intermountain Healthcare’s Breast Care Center.
But not enough Utah women are getting them regularly enough.
Intermountain intends to change that by expanding hours at screening clinics, including staying open on Saturdays, and, launching a second and more advanced mobile mammogram unit.
These efforts should add 20,000 appointments a year.
“We want to make mammograms so convenient that there’s no excuse not to make that appointment,” Parkinson said, adding that the mobile unit will have the capability to do on-site screenings for local business partners.
Utah’s mammography screening rate has continually hovered near the bottom of all states when it comes to screening for breast cancer. Fewer than 67% of women over 40 are being screened, according to National Cancer Institute estimates.
Surrounding states are similarly lacking.
Pat Drehobl, of Taylorsville, made an appointment after she saw the mobile unit parked at the clinic near her home. She hadn’t had a mammogram since experiencing a painful breast reduction surgery seven years earlier.
“I’ve just been hesitant since my surgery, but once I saw the mobile mammogram unit, I finally got up the courage to get screened,” Drehobl said. “It made me feel better being the only patient there and the staff made me feel really comfortable.”
She was relieved there was no sign of cancer after years of neglecting to get screened.
Many women don’t have time during the week to be screened or are anxious about the appointment. The mobile unit, Parkinson said, increases access to a potentially lifesaving service.
“Faster, easier, more convenient cancer screening is an all-around win, and I’m excited to have this resource brought closer for my patients,” said Dr. Brad Prestwich, a family physician at the Intermountain Draper Clinic. He said improving screening rates is imperative, because the earlier breast cancer is detected, “the better chance we have of curing it.”
The mobile unit has already been screening women in Taylorsville, but was officially introduced on Thursday. It will travel to businesses and clinics around the state, increasing access to screening appointments for women. Intermountain operates the new, more advanced mobile unit in addition to a smaller mobile mammogram unit parked at the Garfield Memorial Clinic in Panguitch.
Parkinson said Saturday appointments are filling up at the Breast Care Center in Murray, which is prompting Intermountain to expand hours at more screening centers across the state.
Intermountain Healthcare guidelines suggest women at an average risk for breast cancer should begin annual mammography screening at age 40 and continue for as long as they’re healthy. Guidelines are in place to help save lives with early detection.
The American Cancer Association suggests age 45 is a good place to start, though “women should have the option for screening mammography at age 40 if they want to.”
Breast cancer risk increases by about 20% after age 40, according to data from the American Cancer Society. Known risk factors include being a woman and aging.
The organization estimates nearly 268,000 newly diagnosed cases in 2019. One in eight women can expect to be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime and more than 41,000 women in the United States are expected to die from the disease this year.
Besides skin cancer, breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among American women, BreastCancer.org states.
To request a mobile mammogram or to schedule the Intermountain unit to visit a place of business, go to www.intermountainhealthcare.org/mobilemammo or call 1-833-MAMMOGO (1-833-626-6646).