New center to aid in breast cancer fight
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JUNE 11, 2001

In what is hoped to be the first of many in Indian Country, the Indian Health Service on Friday launched plans for a state-of-the-art mammography clinic on the Navajo Nation in Arizona.

To be located in Tuba City, the Mobile Breast Care Center will provide Indian women in northern Arizona with access to high-tech breast cancer screenings. It is billed as a one-stop testing, diagnosis, and education center for Indian women, who traditionally receive inadequate health care and often lack access to quality services.

"The goal of this center is to increase access of underserved populations to high-quality breast cancer care," said Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson.

While about 70 percent of American women receive annual mammograms, only about 35 percent of Indian women benefit from regular testing, according to federal health research. Screenings are a key part in the prevention and treatment of breast cancer, whose rates among American women have risen in the past decade.

But in a indicator of the health disparities facing Indian Country, cases of new breast cancer among Indian women fell slightly even as cancer deaths increased. The new center hopes to play a part in changing these statistics.

A big part of the effort is a high-tech mammography system developed by General Electric. Instead of using film normally used in mammography machines, it captures digital images.

These images can then be sent via satellite to the Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington and Johns Hopkins Medical Center in Baltimore, Maryland, partners in the new venture. As a result, diagnosing and evaluating results will be faster and quicker, say health officials.

"The IHS is committed to bringing the best and most advanced technology to bear on Indian health issues," said IHS Director Dr. Michael H. Trujillo.

With many clinics in Indian Country located in remote areas, IHS hopes the new technology might be replicated elsewhere. The government will be looking at the outcomes of treatment cases at the center once it is up and running to investigate more mobile centers elsewhere.

The Centers for Disease Control for 10 years has operated the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program. Statistics released last year showed that the program detected 4.9 cancers among every 1,000 Native women.

The rate was small compared to women of other races and ethnicities. But federal officials said the tests were more likely to detect cancers or abnormalities among Indian women due to lack of regular mammograms.

More on the Technology:
Mobile breast care using DICOM satellite tele-mammography prompt-interpretation system (General Electric)

Latest Cancer Statistics:
Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer, 1973-1998

Relevant Links:
The National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program -
Ten Years of Progress, The NBCCEDP -

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Cancer screenings urged (1/5)
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More breast cancer screening urged (10/13)
Breast Cancer Awareness Month (10/13)