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Mobile mammography a lifeline for rural communities

There is still time to book an appointment ahead of the unit coming to 100 Mile House Oct. 17-24
Women are encouraged to book a free mammogram when the BC Cancer mobile mammography coach arrives in 100 Mile House this month.

One in eight women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime.

“It is one of the most common types of cancer found in women and probably about 3,500 women in this province will be receiving a breast cancer diagnosis each year,” says John Lowrie, mobile operations manager for BC Cancer’s Breast Cancer Screen Program.

Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer affecting women in B.C., accounting for 28 per cent of all cancer diagnoses.

The best way to find the cancer early, before it starts to spread, is with screening, he says.

“Certainly you can do a shelf-check but by the time you feel something, it’s gotten fairly large so it’s a good idea to get screened,” Lowrie says.

In urban areas, it is a fairly simple task to book an annual or bi-annual screening at a lab. For residents of more rural and remote areas, however, mobile mammography vehicles have been a game changer.

The program operates three mobile breast screening vehicles - one primarily on Vancouver Island, one split between the Okanagan and the Kootenays, and another that serves mostly Northern Health.

The RV-like vehicles are equipped like a fixed lab, with a waiting room and an exam room with state-of-the-art digital mammography systems, Lowrie said. The trio of mobile labs do about 10 per cent of the screening in B.C., or about 15,000 exams each year, visiting approximately 170 rural and remote communities, including 40 First Nations. They operate Monday to Saturday, typically from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

“You don’t need a referral from a doctor,” Lowrie says. “You can just phone us and book an appointment.”

Clients do need a health practitioner, whether a naturopath or a nurse practitioner or a family doctor, to help them navigate the next steps should there be any findings that require follow-up, he says. In many cases, a suspicious finding on a mammogram does not mean cancer, he adds. It simply leads to a closer look by ultrasound or other means that do not turn out to be cancer.

Up to 90 per cent of breast lumps are not cancer.

Male breast cancer is very rare, with just two out of every 100,000 males diagnosed, compared to 151 per 100,000 females. That equates to 10-30 new cases of male breast cancer in the province each year.

Perhaps because of its rarity, male breast cancers are often diagnosed at later stages of disease, likely because men ignore lumps in their breast tissue until the cancer is metastatic, meaning it has spread to other parts of the body.

One in eight women is expected to develop breast cancer during their lifetime and one in 35 will die from it.

The mobile mammography units may be in a specific community only once a year, so Lowrie suggests people book an appointment as early as possible. The van will be in 100 Mile from Oct. 17-24 and there are still some appointments available, he says.

The unit will be in Clearwater Oct. 6-10; in Barriere on Oct. 12; and in Clinton on Oct. 25. Quesnel and Williams Lake have mammograms available in the radiology labs of their local hospitals.

Mobile mammography appointments can be booked by phoning 1-800-663-9203 or online at