BOULDER — Linda Brandt knows too well the importance of cancer screening. Her husband died from it and her sister fought it. The problem for Brandt is that access to specialty care like a mammogram to screen for breast cancer is over 30 miles away, and she can’t drive.
She moved to Boulder because she likes how quiet it is, but it puts her farther away from certain amenities. Brandt was one of several who took advantage of SCL Health Montana’s Mobile Mammography unit that arrived in Boulder for screenings on Friday.
“My kids say no more driving,’’ Brandt said. “So that means nobody has to pick me up, take me (to Butte) and take time off of work to get me there. So it’s a good deal,” she added.
In fact, Boulder resident Bonnie Weinmeister said she would have probably delayed her annual mammogram had the unit not come to Boulder.
These women are not alone, as 48% of women ages 50-74 in St. James Healthcare's service area have not had a mammogram within the past two years, the hospital said in a press release. The American Cancer Society projects 1 in 8 women will face breast cancer in their lifetime. Early detection is the best chance to increase breast cancer survival rates. In 2021, it is estimated 950 women in Montana will be diagnosed with breast cancer, with an estimated 140 breast cancer deaths.
“I’ve found a lot of women from Boulder haven’t had really regular specialty medical care. They’re getting their primary care with good regular access but specialty care, like a gynecologist or a urologist might be more rare,” said SCL Health Medical Group’s Laura Twist, MD, OB-GYN. “So we really like to be able to bring our specialty services to this community.”
Twist travels to Boulder and Deer Lodge with her nurse once a month to provide gynecological care.
“I certainly see plenty of patients — and this is in every community,’’ Twist said. “But I’ve definitely noticed it in Boulder — where their last gynecological visit or their last breast exam might have been at the time of their last experience giving birth which for some women could be 30 or 40 years ago.
“So having specialty care brought to Boulder is really important,” she added.
Lori Lagerquist, a physician assistant with SCL Health Medical Group in Boulder, has deep ties to the Boulder community. She arrived in 1991 and says the demographics are changing but it is still an older community with limited mobility.
“I think that we’ve improved that a lot through SCL Health and St. James,” said Lagerquist. But she knows there could be more. “It’s definitely a convenience and a needed service to have mammography brought to the community.”
Patients at the mobile mammography unit Friday agreed.
“It is so helpful because otherwise you have to travel and it takes half your day to get this done,” said Weinmeister.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the American College of Radiology recommend annual mammography screenings starting at age 40.
“About 10% of breast cancers are diagnosed in women who are between 40 and 50 years old so there is a lot of opportunity to catch that really early stage disease in that age group,” said Twist.
The SCL Health Montana mobile mammogram booked 18 available time slots at Friday’s visit to Boulder.
“You come on (the coach), you get it done in 5 to 7 minutes. Then you’re done, you’re off, you’re happy and everybody is very happy … ,” said mammography coach driver, Tamara Miller.