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Cancer nonprofit brings free, mobile mammograms to rural North Carolina

Pink flowers are in the foreground. Behind them is a street and parking lot with a bus parked in it. The bus is light blue and decorated with pink flowers. A large pink square on it reads "Driven to defeat breast cancer." A collapsible awning is opened on the bus's side where patients will step into the vehicle for a mammogram.
Invision Diagnostics, via Facebook
Submitted Image
A Greenville-based nonprofit will use buses provided by Invision Diagnostics to bring breast cancer screenings to rural communities in Eastern North Carolina. The state-of-the-art buses provide 3D mammograms.

A bus that conducts breast cancer screenings is scheduled to make its way through Eastern North Carolina beginning this month.

It’s a new initiative called Mission in Motion — run by the Greenville-based nonprofit Cancer Services of Eastern North Carolina. The nonprofit’s executive director Lynn Pischke said that the program, largely funded by a $35,000 grant from the Camber Foundation, will use a state-of-the-art bus to provide 200 no-cost mammograms to patients in rural North Carolina.

“The patients will not pay a cent,” Pischke said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), rural counties in the U.S. had higher cancer death rates than urban and metropolitan counties in 2011 to 2015. That’s potentially due to what the report stated are “disparities in access to health care and timely diagnosis and treatment.”

Pischke said that lack of rural health care access was highlighted by a patient in Ahoskie who contacted the nonprofit last fall. She was in her 60s, had no form of transportation, and she wanted to get her first mammogram. Upon learning of the lack of mobile mammogram machines east of I-95, the nonprofit applied for the grant that would come to fund the free mammograms conducted in mobile screening units throughout the year.

A mammogram shows an x-ray image of a breast. An arrow points at a bright white spot in the bottom right. The spot is a type of cancer.
Dr. Dwight Kaufman
National Cancer Institute
A bright white spot in the bottom right indicates cancer in this mammogram. Breast cancer is the second most common cancer among U.S. women, according to the CDC, with 8,911 new cases reported in North Carolina in 2020.

“We're very strategically placing them in areas of Eastern North Carolina that are considered medically deserted,” Pischke said. “There's no doctor in town. There's no dentist in town. What's happened is, thousands of people have just not gotten preventative screenings. And, with breast cancer specifically, it's highly, highly successfully curable if you get it early.”

Breast cancer is the second most common cancer among U.S. women, according to the CDC, with 8,911 new cases reported in North Carolina in 2020.

Nash County's Country Doctor Museum will be the first site to host the mobile breast cancer screening unit, currently scheduled for April 29, according to museum director Annie Anderson.

“It's just really important to make those annual screenings,” Anderson said. “If at some point — God forbid — in the future, there's an area of concern, your doctors will look at your previous mammograms to compare them. And, if you find it earlier rather than later, you have more options in terms of treatments, in terms of how you want to go about your treatment journey.”

Anderson said museum staff look forward to welcoming patients who have registered for the event, aiming to make it a positive experience.

“Mammograms — any sort of imaging exams — can be very stressful,” Anderson said. “Even if you don't expect anything to be wrong, there's just a buildup of stress with that kind of unknown quality. Many of the women that we're working with from Cancer Services of Eastern North Carolina are breast cancer survivors. I'm a breast cancer survivor. So, it's just very near and dear to our hearts to be able to help women get an early diagnosis if they need to.”

To be eligible for a screening with the Mission in Motion program, Cancer Services of Eastern North Carolina lists the following requirements:

  • Patients 35 years and older with or without an active insurance plan
  • Must be 1 year since previous mammogram
  • Cannot be pregnant or breastfeeding
  • Must report a PCP or OB-GYN to receive results
  • Must not have a lump you can feel or dimpling of the breasts, or nipple changes

Patients who have known breast concerns are not eligible, Anderson said, because they would require more of a diagnostic mammogram, not the screening mammograms provided by Mission in Motion.
Nonprofit executive director Lynn Pischke said that after Nash County, the breast cancer screening bus is scheduled to visit Conetoe in Edgecombe County on May 29, Aurora in Beaufort County on Aug. 18, and a yet-to-be-determined location in Pamlico County on Sept. 19.

The mobile units can perform 30 mammograms a day. Prospective patients will need to register online.

Sophie Mallinson is a daily news intern with WUNC for summer 2023. She is a recent graduate from UNC-Chapel Hill, where she studied journalism. Sophie is from Greenville, N.C., but she enjoys the new experiences of the Triangle area. During her time as a Tar Heel, Sophie was a reporter and producer for Carolina Connection, UNC-Chapel Hill’s radio program. She currently is heavily involved in science education at Morehead Planetarium and Science Center.