As October drew to a close, it marked the end of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, an annual campaign aimed at increasing awareness of the disease. University Health System is commuting to keep the mission of breast cancer awareness thriving throughout San Antonio with its Healthy U Express mobile mammography vehicle.

The grant-funded program aims to remove obstacles that prevent women from getting mammograms, which the American Cancer Society reports is the best way to detect breast cancer early on. The mobile mammography vehicle specifically addresses structural barriers – namely potential intimidation by the construction of large multi-level buildings, transportation issues, time limitations, financial constraints, and educational awareness about the disease.

Sandra gets a mammogram in the University Health System Healthy U Express mobile.
Sandra gets a mammogram in the University Health System Healthy U Express mobile. Credit: Kathryn Boyd-Batstone / San Antonio Report

Program associates partner with interested organizations to bring the screening vehicle to their location, where they are then able to service up to 25 individuals both with and without health insurance coverage.

“We serve everyone who needs to be served,” University Health System Director of Health Care Services Anna McAndrew said.

The program does not merely function as a one-stop-shop for mammograms, she explained. While fast-paced in its intention, University Health System has worked to ensure that full comprehensive services are offered.

Patients are screened to either receive the mammogram on-site or are referred to obtain a more thorough in-office diagnostic exam when deemed necessary. The grant funding that is available to help uninsured individuals who are unable to pay also “follows” them in the event that they are referred for further evaluation, and continues with them through their breast wellness journey.

Insured individuals’ screening fees are submitted to their respective insurance carrier and gathered screening information can be sent to the individual’s primary care physician. For those not working with a specific care provider, referrals can be made for physicians close to the person’s home.

Mammogram Technician Bea Arocha prepares for her next patient.
Mammogram Technician Bea Arocha prepares for her next patient. Credit: Kathryn Boyd-Batstone / San Antonio Report

McAndrew noted that a major key to the program’s success lies in the ability to make effective referrals on the spot, which frees up slots for more women to receive services at the mobile locations and maximizes funding. “We want to be better and better and better,” she said, explaining that education is key for both patients and employees.

Tammy Eaton, 42, received her mammogram with the mobile unit when it was scheduled at Treemount Church, where she is a member. This is her second time participating in the mobile program, and she was eager to set an appointment upon finding out it would return.

She said she appreciated that the services offered begin somewhere familiar. “It’s open to the public,” Eaton explained. “It extends from our church into the community, and I like that.” She added that cost, location, and education all act as barriers that prevent people in her community from receiving services, and that she is grateful that something so important is becoming more convenient.

According to the most recent Texas Department of State Health Services Texas Cancer Registry reports, breast cancer is the leading cancer diagnosis in Bexar County, with the third highest mortality rate. Nationally, breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in women, and it is the most common cancer diagnosis in women worldwide.

Family Nurse Practitioner Rosamaria Ortiz, whose name tag has an IUD taped to the back so she can present quick tutorials, takes the educational component of her position seriously. She explained that her job is to help people understand the “invaluable” resources that are available to them in the community.

A University Health System Healthy U Express nurse prepares to meet with a patient.
A University Health System Healthy U Express nurse prepares to meet with a patient. Credit: Kathryn Boyd-Batstone / San Antonio Report

When asked about whether people appear to be more comfortable at a mobile site versus an in-office visit, she reported she felt it was “50/50.” The services all take place on the bus, beginning with the financial screening to the mammogram itself.

“Some women are very comfortable and some aren’t,” Ortiz said. “What helps is that this is an all-women environment.”

Breast cancer in men is rare, but it does happen. The percentage of all breast cancer cases for men in the United States is 1% – that means about 2,600 men are diagnosed with breast cancer every year. Detection and treatment is similar to that of women, yet the stigma surrounding breast cancer, women, and the color pink, often prevents men from seeking treatment. For more information specifically relevant to breast cancer in men, science, and personal experiences, click here.

While the mobile mammography unit specifically works to serve a female population, University Health System has programs with grants geared toward disease prevention for men. You can find more about these programs by calling 210-358-TALK.

The unknown can be intimidating – especially when it comes to one’s health. University Health System’s work to expand prevention and education services in the community helps alleviate anxiety caused by barriers to service.

While most can agree that time is precious and going to the doctor is typically a discomforting hassle, programs that focus on public education and removing barriers are beneficial to every demographic, and they are key to keeping our population healthy.

Roseanna Garza

Roseanna Garza reports on health and bioscience for the San Antonio Report.