Aiming to Lower DC’s Breast Cancer Mortality Rate

By Ron Dory
Ron Dory
Ron Dory
August 24, 2013 Updated: August 26, 2013

WASHINGTON—Women residing in District of Columbia contract breast cancer and die at a per capita rate higher than anywhere else in the United States. Two women met and decided to change that.

Dr. Regina Hampton and Beth Beck are fundraising to launch Breast Care for Washington (BCW), an organization that would make breast mammography services available to all women in the region, regardless of whether or not they have health insurance. 

Taking on breast cancer is a daunting endeavor. But Dr. Hampton and Ms. Beck have the drive to overcome the organizational challenges.

Dr. Hampton, the only female breast surgeon in Prince George’s county, met Ms. Beck, and they became co-founders of BCW.

“She was the only person who would take our uninsured patients,” said Beck.

BCW ‘s organizational model and innovative approach to making breast cancer screening available to women is inspired by The Rose, a Texas-based organization established in 1987. The Rose offers screening, diagnostics, and mobile mammography services. They serve more than 7,000 women in more than 40 cities in Texas with their two mobile mammography units, which provide breast health care to nearly 33,000 women annually, according to its website.

“One of the biggest challenges is helping people to understand. Right now we are a concept and we are basing our concept on something outside of Washington… We are asking people to invest in us. Once we are able to launch our services, I think that people are going to see that this is a great program,” said Beck.

Mobile Services

BCW plans to offer mobile mammography services in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, taking the idea from The Rose. With a mammogram machine on wheels called SOFIE, BCW hopes to be able to offer breast cancer screening exams in community clinics, recreation centers, churches, and other locations that are convenient for women. 

By bringing SOFIE to sites easily accessible to women, it eliminates possible obstacles to screening like fear, time and location, according to The Rose website. And by making it easier for women to get mammograms, it may increase the likelihood that they will come more regularly. 

Delayed screenings may result in the detection of later stage breast cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

To cater to women who may prefer to visit a standard office location, BCW intends to open an office in the new Community of Hope, Conway Health and Resource Center currently under construction in Southeast Washington. Hologic, a women’s health company, donated three dimensional imaging technology to outfit the BCW office.

Reaching Women Without Insurance

Although BCW has received contributions from individual donors, thus far, the organization relies heavily on its community relationships and partnerships with organizations and foundations to bring closure to raising the $300,000 more that they need to begin offering services by the end of the year. 

One fundraising breakthrough moving BCW a step closure reaching its funding target came in May when BCW was awarded a $125,000 grant at the 11th annual Avon Walk for Breast Cancer. The Avon Foundation for Women awarded 2.26 million in grants to ten local organizations at the walk. The grant was part of the Avon Safety Net Hospital Program that funds more than 100 hospitals across the country through grants, providing access to screening, diagnostic services and breast cancer care for everyone, regardless of insurance or financial status. 

A lack of health insurance and inability to pay for breast care services is a reality for some women in the Washington, D.C. region. To provide services to uninsured women, BCW plans to adopt another of The Rose’s ideas, where insured patients cover some of the costs of uninsured patients. 

“There is a subset of reimbursable that will go to fund uninsured women for their breast cancer screening,” said Beck. 

With roughly fifty percent of the population in Washington, D.C. being African American according 2010 census data, the discrepancies between African American women and white women indicate that there is a strong need for BCW’s services, and it may be a factor that explains the high mortality rate for women with breast cancer in the region. 

According to the CDC, African American women die from breast cancer at a rate higher than white women even though statistically they experience less instances of breast cancer. Disparities between black and white women exist in the entire breast care continuum according to the CDC. 

Screening and follow-up on abnormal findings, treatment initiation and completion are among the areas where studies find disparities, according to the CDC. Research also indicates that a higher percentage of black women wait longer to their next screening than white women.

BCW seeks to apply an organizational model proven successful at The Rose in Texas. If they could also borrow the strong support and enthusiasm that compels people in the Rose community to skydive to raise funds for The Rose (http://www.jumpfortherose.org/), their goals might be met quicker and the breast cancer death rate in region might plunge. 

Would it plunge as fast as body free falling towards the earth? If enough of the community stands behind BCW, it just might.

Ron Dory
Ron Dory