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Mammovan Crisscrosses Nevada To Bring Breast Cancer Screenings To Women

The agency Nevada Health Centers is hitting the road again to make breast cancer screenings accessible to all women across the state. Reno Public Radio’s Anh Gray reports that despite conflicting opinions over their value, mammograms are still viewed as an important prevention tool by many.

A few women are waiting for a mammogram. The space is slightly cramped and there’s a humming noise in the background. That’s because they're on a Mammovan—a mobile clinic retrofitted on a semi-truck.

“I’ve lived in Reno for five years and I’ve not had a mammogram in 5 years,” Sharon Carr says.

“I’m a little nervous because I do have a history in the family of breast cancer," Bev Treadway says.

You just heard from Sharon Carr and Bev Treadway, who used the Mammovan while it was in Reno. Usually, the mobile clinic crisscrosses all over Nevada—340 days each year serving more than 3,000 women annually. 

Mammographer Pamela Miller demonstrates the mammogram. Photo by Anh Gray.

“There are some communities within in our state like Hawthorne, Tonopah, Yerington and other areas that even though they might have a hospital, there’s no mammography services, Colleen Petroksy says. “I’m the mammo manager of the Nevada Health Center Mammovan,”  

The United States Preventive Services Task Force recommends that routine screening of average-risk women should begin at age 50.  But recent news reports citing several studies in U.S. and British medical journals have found more mammograms may not always mean fewer cancer deaths.Petrosky disagrees with that.

American Cancer Society has been doing studies and they can definitely show where the screenings have gone up, the incidence of death has gone down.”

“I still think that mammography is still the first line of defense,” Pamela Miller says. She’s a mammographer with two decades of experience.

Miller demonstrates the Mammovan’s equipment, which she says is the latest digital technology, similar to what would be used at imaging centers.

“I would bring the patient’s breast tissue right up here and that just comes down and compresses, and we need a decent compression," Miller says,  "so that allows what the doctor to see through to make sure nothing is going on that shouldn’t be.”

Miller says some patients may also be referred for additional testsusing MRIs and ultrasounds. These screenings could be helpful for women with dense breast tissue, which is linked to higher rates of cancer. A few years ago, the Nevada legislature passed a law requiring doctors to notify women if they have dense breast tissue.   

Leaving Miller’s examining room, patient Sandra Jackson is glad she took the time to get her test done.

“I’m going to refer the Mammovan to my mom,” Jackson says. “She is a tribal chairperson for Yerington and it would be a good opportunity for the Mammovan to go out on the reservation, as well as in the colony, to have these services done for the Native American women down there.” 

Mammovan parked in Reno. Photo by Anh Gray.

Less than a third of the patients using the Mammovan have private insurance.   Mammovan manager Colleen Petrosky says these services are critical to lower economic women in both urban and rural communities. Nevada Health Center would like another mobile unit up and running, but they’ll first need to raise the funds.

Anh Gray is a former contributing editor at KUNR Public Radio.