HealthWatch: Mobile Mammograms

NEW YORK (CBS 2) — Death rates from breast cancer have been dropping steadily over the past decade while five-year survival is now up to more than 90-percent. However, hidden in these hopeful statistics is a disturbing trend: black women are dying at a much greater rate.

That survival gap is all the more disturbing when you realize that white women actually have more breast cancer than black women. Yet when black women get diagnosed with breast cancer, it’s at a later stage and they die at a much greater rate.

As CBS 2HD’s Dr. Max Gomez reports, St. Barnabas Hospital in the Tremont Section of the Bronx is taking healthcare right to the people who need it most.

“It might be a death sentence for me,” breast cancer patient Patricia Moore said might have happened had she not gotten her breast cancer diagnosed and treated at an early stage.

The early diagnosis started as it often does, with a mammogram. What’s unusual about Patricia’s case is where it was done. She walked into a mobile van, parked on a Bronx street. “It’s really an in-and-out thing. They make you feel very comfortable,” she said.

That’s the key. Breast surgeon Dr. Bert Petersen heads the St. Barnabas outreach program, and said offering healthcare like mammograms in places like hospitals isn’t enough.

“Something intimidating to actually get their healthcare in these large settings where sometimes there’s a language barrier and cultural barriers in these large institutions,” Petersen said. “So it really becomes important to engage in what I like to call taking healthcare to the people.”

So the St. Barnabas van parks outside churches, beauty parlors, and community centers.

Guillermina Paredes is a typical patient. She couldn’t afford health insurance but made just enough to keep her from qualifying for Medicaid. First she was helped with paperwork, then she was led back to the mammography unit. Her cancer surgery was just three weeks ago.

She told Dr. Gomez it would have been catatstrophic for her had she not been able to walk in and get a mammogram for the lump she found in her breast.

“We’ve started to pick up on these cancers much earlier which has not only led to the ultimate outcome of better survival but we have more women who no longer need a masectomy,” Petersen said.

“If you can walk and have a test done, it saves more lives every day, every hour, every minute, every year,” Patricia said.

The community approach doesn’t end with just getting mammograms. Women are referred to oncologists, surgeons and social workers that shepherd them through the healthcare system, because getting a diagnosis doesn’t do much good if you don’t also get good treatment.

Lack of access to healthcare isn’t the only reason why black women are dying more often from their breast cancer. There are several factors at work.

Some of it appears to be genetic. Black women, including Latino blacks, tend to develop breast cancer at an earlier age and have a more aggressive form of the disease.

Even when you correct for those differences, however, black women do worse than white women and that’s due to access to healthcare.

  • Eunice Newkirk

    Dr. Petersen is what you would call a doctor’s doctor. I had the privilege of being at a health fair where he spoke and gave a similar service for men. He is compassionate about his work. For him to do what he is doing to SAVE lives from this dreaded disease is God’s work. He is a blessing to us all. My prayers are with you Dr. Petersen to continue to touch lives, and that God will continue to use you to do his work. I hope other doctors will follow suit. And I hope he will be in Harlem real soon.

  • Ericka Mosheshe

    God bless Dr. Petersen and the life-saving work he is undertaking for disadvantaged women in the community. Many women hear the message to get a mammogram but don’t know where to begin when they don’t have a doctor. Taking the mammography van to where the women are removes the assumption that they can’t have or afford one. The extra is that these women in turn will help spread the message to other women in the same predicament.

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