Kathie Bach, who was born with cerebral palsy, flashed a smile and a thumbs up after checking out the mammography machine in the Reger Family Center for Breast Health at Billings Clinic.
“Any woman with a disability would be easily accommodated here,” said Bach, 65, of Glendive. “It’s wonderful. Everything is what I call mobility accessible.”
Bach, who relies on a wheelchair, serves as a disability adviser for the Montana Cancer Control Coalition.
Bach joined facility evaluators from the University of New Mexico School of Medicine’s Center on Development and Disability on Tuesday to conduct an on-site visit. They also visited Yellowstone Breast Center at St. Vincent Healthcare.
The visits were designed to increase staff awareness about mammography accessibility for women with disabilities and to offer technical assistance to improve facility accessibility.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women. In 2010, the most recent year data is available, 206,966 women in the United States were diagnosed with breast cancer and 40,996 women died from breast cancer.
Women with disabilities are at an increased risk of dying from breast cancer because they are significantly less likely to receive a clinical breast exam and mammogram screening.
In the United States in 2008, women with a disability aged 50-74 reported a lower rate of mammography use than women without a disability of the same ages (78.1 percent versus 82.6 percent), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Studies also show higher rates of death related to breast cancer among women with a disability, even when diagnosed at the same stage as women without a disability, according to the CDC.
“This disparity is often due to physical, environmental, cultural and attitudinal barriers,” said Nancy W. Lee, executive director of Susan G. Komen Montana.
That is why Komen Montana, a Susan G. Komen Montana affiliate, is partnering with The University of Montana Rural Institute: A Center for Excellence in Disabilities Education, Research and Services, and the American Association on Health and Disability on “Project Accessibility: Removing Barriers for Women with Disabilities.”
“This win-win opportunity will help two Komen Montana grantees, Billings Clinic and St. Vincent Healthcare, continue to provide services to women with disabilities,” Lee said.
Ensuring women with disabilities have access to regular mammograms can lower the risk of dying from breast cancer.
For the past 13 years, Billings Clinic has provided 2,200 mammograms to uninsured and underinsured women through its Women’s Wellness and Partners for Women’s Health Screening Programs funded by Komen Montana, said Sarah Porter-Osen, coordinator for the National Community Cancer Centers Program at Billings Clinic Cancer Center. Since 2002, the Billings Clinic program has received grants totaling $352,485.
St. Vincent Healthcare has received more than $124,932 in the past five years for Eastern Montana’s only Mobile Digital Mammography Program. Since its inception in 2010, the Mobile Digital Mammography Program has provided mammograms to more than 5,400 uninsured and underinsured women and delivered breast health education to more than 3,000 at-risk women in a single year.
“Thanks to the support from Susan G. Komen Montana, St. Vincent Healthcare will be able to provide more mammograms to underserved women, many in remote rural communities, who would have otherwise not been screened in a timely fashion, or at all,” said Eric Pollard, director of radiology at St. Vincent Healthcare.
Since 1995, Komen Montana has awarded more than $1.5 million in community grants across Montana to pay for programs that help women and men overcome the cultural, social, educational and financial barriers to breast cancer screening and treatment.
In conjunction with Project Accessibility, Meg Traci, research associate professor with the University of Montana Rural Institute, provided Montana’s
Right to Know Campaign materials at the Billings hospitals.
The Right to Know Campaign is being implemented statewide through the Montana Disability and Health Program, a cooperative agreement between the CDC and Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services.
Women with disabilities report that messages and materials that promote health often did not reflect their unique needs and challenges, Lee said.