For nearly 30 years, a mobile clinic has made it easier for Alberta women to stay on top of their breast health closer to home.
Each year, the Screen Test Mobile Clinic rolls into 120 communities across Alberta, including 26 First Nation and Metis communities, to screen women for breast cancer through mammograms.
Up to 16,500 patients are seen annually at the mobile clinic operated by Alberta Health Services (AHS). Since Screen Test began, nearly 2,700 women have been diagnosed with breast cancer through its services, says Harmony McRae, Screen Test health promotion facilitator.
Many patients [who] come onto our trailer cannot drive or don’t have any kind of transportation.
– Priscila Barnes
“[Screen Test was created] to bring screening [to] where women [live] in rural communities, because a lot of women weren’t being screened properly. They didn’t have access to the equipment in their communities,” explains McRae, noting that one-in-eight women throughout the province are diagnosed with breast cancer.
Mammograms can often show evidence of breast cancer two to three years before a woman and her doctor can detect it. This early detection can lead to more successful treatments, says McRae.
Residents of rural communities are given advance notice when the mobile unit will be in town so they can book an appointment with Screen Test. When the patients arrive for their appointment, they enter the Screen Test trailer which is set up as a small clinic with all the screening equipment that is needed. Patients receive a short questionnaire about their family history and are taken to the mammography room, where a technologist captures at least two images of each breast. Within three weeks, the results from the imaging will be sent to the patient and her physician.
Priscila Barnes, one of the mammography technologists on board the Screen Test Mobile Clinic, says patients are grateful that the service comes to them. They say if it wasn’t available, they likely wouldn’t have the screening performed at all.
“Many patients [who] come onto our trailer cannot drive or don’t have any kind of transportation,” Barnes explains. “For some communities, getting a friend or family member to drive them into the city is a possibility. But for the vast majority, it isn’t, especially when the nearest city with a mammography machine is four hours away.”
According to Barnes, the cost of taking a day off work to travel for hours into the nearest city, along with the prospect of actually having to drive in the city, prevents many women from having a mammogram.
“I have heard it expressed many times that, if we did not come into their town, they would not take the day off to go into the city to have this test done,” she adds.
Barnes insists that Screen Test has saved the lives of numerous women. Not only has it allowed for the early detection of breast cancers, but it also allows the patients to spend less time away from their families and friends.
We want to encourage women [to get screened] by reminding them that screening really is important, that it does work, it does find cancer early, and that it can really improve the chance of surviv[ing] breast cancer.
– Harmony McRae
Today, about 90 per cent of Alberta women are surviving breast cancer, according to McRae.
“We want to encourage women [to get screened] by reminding them that screening really is important, that it does work, it does find cancer early, and that it can really improve the chance of surviv[ing] breast cancer,” she says.
It’s important to note that men can get breast cancer, too. It’s extremely rare, though, with about one per cent of people diagnosed with breast cancer being men. Men are not eligible for breast cancer screening in Alberta so they should speak to their health-care provider if they’re concerned about their breast tissue.
For more information on Screen Test and the provincial cancer screening programs offered by Alberta Health Services, visit screeningforlife.ca.
– Arianna Korbett