Mobile mammography: Cancer-screening dream comes true

Thanks to local and national divisions of Safeway Inc., more women in Washington will gain access to opportunities for annual screening
Steve Burd and Dr. Connie Lehman
Safeway Foundation CEO Steve Burd hands the keys to the mobile mammography van to the SCCA's Dr. Connie Lehman, who will direct the program. Photo by Dean Forbes

The Seattle Cancer Care Alliance's new mobile-mammography van equipped with state-of-the-art digital screening tools was unveiled at the University Village Safeway store Monday, July 16. It represents the culmination of a month-long fund-raising campaign sponsored by the Seattle Division of Safeway Inc. and supported by its employees and customers along with a corporate grant from the Safeway Foundation.

Last winter, employees and customers of the Seattle division of Safeway Inc. donated $800,000 to two of the institutions that govern the SCCA-the Hutchinson Center and University of Washington Medicine. Safeway CEO Steve Burd, who flew up from California for the event, surprised the audience by giving the SCCA a check for $200,000 to cover the van's operating expenses for two years. The van will begin regular operations in late summer by holding breast-screening clinics at locations around Puget Sound. Eventually its schedule will include visits to cities throughout western Washington.

Dr. Connie Lehman, director of medical imaging at the SCCA, and vice chair of radiology, head of breast imaging at the UW School of Medicine, will direct the operations of the colorful, 40-foot-long mobile screening facility.

"Women living in the state of Washington have higher rates of breast cancer compared to the rest of the country," Lehman said. "And yet, compared to the rest of the country, we also have fewer women receiving regular screening mammography. We have an opportunity with this program to provide more women the opportunity for screening with the latest and best technology for early detection of breast cancer. We are delighted to partner with Safeway to make a difference for women and their families in our community."

A mobile-mammography unit has been a goal of Lehman's for several years because not all women have convenient access to annual screening. Such screening is the best tool to detect breast cancer at its earliest stages, when it is most treatable and less likely to become life threatening. In June, a study by the National Cancer Institute reinforced the importance of making screening more accessible with the finding that mammography screening had dropped 4 percent from 2000 to 2005. In 2000, only 70 percent of women surveyed for the study reported getting an annual mammogram.

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