South Park Magazine

Up close and personal

Amy Carpenter, right, a mammography technologist for Charlotte Radiology, performs a mammography test on Kim Fields of Charlotte.
Amy Carpenter, right, a mammography technologist for Charlotte Radiology, performs a mammography test on Kim Fields of Charlotte. Jason E. Miczek

Since February, Charlotte Radiology has been providing a vivid black-and-pink reminder to the region’s women about the need to get mammograms.

The 38-foot-long Mobile Breast Center is completely outfitted to provide the same mammography services available at Charlotte Radiology’s 11 permanent sites. With two dressing rooms, a registration area and a large exam room, the unit makes the mammography process as comfortable as possible for its thousands of visitors.

“We’ve found that half the women who have mammograms when our mobile breast unit visits corporations haven’t ever had one before, and 25 percent of the women we see at those locations are past due,” says Shawna Platé, breast services manager at Charlotte Radiology Breast Center. “That is huge.”

Reaching those women who might not otherwise have mammograms is one of the key goals of the mobile breast unit, which saw over 2,200 patients from its opening through July. (Prior to its opening, a mobile van from CMC-Northeast, in Concord, serviced Mecklenburg sites, and still services several counties outside Mecklenburg).

“We visit corporate sites, densely populated residential areas in which we aren’t able to build permanent mammography sites such as in Steele Creek and Gastonia, and we even visit our current permanent mammography sites that can’t manage to see all of the patients on their schedule for one reason or another,” says Platé. “Our goal is to get women in quickly, and to serve women who might not otherwise get the mammograms they need.”

Many women mistakenly believe they are only at risk if their family has a history of breast cancer. Not so, says Platé, who adds that 75 percent of women diagnosed don’t have a family history. “Being a woman is the key risk factor. But for people who do have a family history it’s even more important to have regular breast cancer screenings,” she says. (Platé notes that while men are far less likely to develop breast cancer, they should definitely be aware the possibility for such cancer exists for them and should not shy away from voicing any concerns to their physicians.)

By partnering with local health organizations, Charlotte Radiology is also able to serve populations who might not otherwise be able to afford to have mammograms. “By contacting the Mecklenburg County Health Department, women can schedule mammograms in our mobile unit and pay a discounted rate that is nearly half off the regular rate,” says Platé.

But simply offering mammography in a convenient and inviting package doesn’t necessarily guarantee women will take advantage of the services.

Education and screening go hand in hand, and by educating women about the importance of things like routine screenings and the risks of breast cancer, Charlotte Radiology hopes to increase the frequency with which they help women detect breast cancer far earlier than they otherwise would, offering them a greater chance at successful treatment.

Charlotte Radiology’s Pink Ladies, a group of eight women – one completely covered in a white body suit and the other seven in pink body suits – visit events to help illustrate the fact that one in eight women will be affected by breast cancer. Also offering educational materials to anyone, and any organization interested, Charlotte Radiology stands ready not only to disseminate information about breast cancer, screening, and treatment – they are also adamant about correcting any misinformation women may have received along the way from other organizations.

Platé noted that recently a controversy arose when a study claimed women didn’t need to begin mammograms at age 40. That study, Platé believes, has done women a grave disservice. Women, she says emphatically, should have mammograms every year beginning at age 40. “There will always be studies that say something different, but ultimately the national experts stand firm in the recommendation that women begin getting annual mammograms at age 40, and that recommendation has not changed. A lot of women choose to put it off, but they shouldn’t.”

Dr. Christina Chaconas, a radiologist with Charlotte Radiology, wonders, with a degree of frustration, how many times women have to be told about the dangers of breast cancer and the issues associated with avoidance of mammography. “There are three arms to the prevention and treatment of breast cancer,” says Chaconas. “Monthly breast self-exams performed right after a woman’s period ends, yearly physical exams given by a physician, and yearly mammograms beginning at age 40 are all critical. So many studies,” she adds, “are based on lives saved. But we want everyone to consider what quality of life they’ll have if they catch the disease early on versus finding it when it’s in some later stage.”

The simple fact is that there are no magic pills one can take in order to prevent development of breast cancer. Early detection, however, can mean the difference between swift medical intervention and an uphill battle that can be lengthy and unsuccessful.

More information:For Charlotte Radiology’s Mobile Breast Mammogram scheduling number: 704-367-2232

Special awareness events

Northlake Mall: On Sept. 24 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Charlotte Radiology will participate in an event to create awareness about general women’s health, early detection, and education for current breast cancer patients as well as recognize and celebrate survivors. The Mobile Breast Center will be there from 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

Through October:Junior League of Charlotte: The “pink ladies” will adorn The Junior League Warehouse storefront beginning Sept. 30 and running through October. Mannequins, dressed in full body suits (7 pink and 1 white), represent the statistic that 1 in 8 women is affected by breast cancer. Educational materials about breast health will be available to shoppers. An educational event for members and the public will be held at 6 p.m. on Oct. 19 at The Junior League Warehouse, 1117 Pecan Avenue,

Through October:“Save the 1 in 8 Date” events: Charlotte Radiology is teaming up with 107.9 the Link to raise awareness and donations for Carolina’s Breast Fund, which provides mammograms for uninsured women. Local restaurants and retailers will offer a special “1 in 8” themed deal, such as $8 pizza, 8-cent ice cream, 8 percent off, etc. Check for updates.

Oct. 15:Tickled Pink: Raises money for the Edwards Cancer Center at CMC-Union. Begins at 6 p.m. and includes a silent auction followed by dinner and a comedy routine. More info:

Mammography Fast Facts

--Mammograms show changes in the breast up to two years before a patient or physician can feel them.

--For cancers detected early, surgery is less drastic and usually allows for preservation of the breast.

--The two biggest risk factors for breast cancer are being a woman and growing older.

--Mammography is a low-cost and safe tool for breast cancer screening, with the amount of radiation exposure comparable to flying across the country.

--Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in women today (after lung cancer) and is the most common cancer among women, excluding non-melanoma skin cancers.

--Women with greater than 20 percent lifetime risk of breast cancer (based on family history, genetics testing, prior atypical pathology, previous thoracic radiation therapy and other factors) should get an MRI and a mammogram every year.

--The American Cancer Society recommends that women over 40 have a screening mammogram every year – even if they have no symptoms or family history of breast cancer.

--Mammography has helped reduce breast cancer mortality in the U.S. by 30 percent since 1990.

--The ten-year risk for breast cancer in a 40-year-old woman is 1 in 69.

--1 in 6 breast cancers occur in women aged 40-49.

--75 percent of women with breast cancer have NO family history and are not considered high risk

Source: Charlotte Radiology