December 9, 2022

As part of the initiative, Penn Medicine partnered with Dobbins High School, located across from the screening unit, to engage local students in breast cancer education and advocacy. Students were invited to hear from members of Penn Medicine, tour the screening van, talk to the technologists, and even consider careers in the field.

“What we really had hoped for with the Dobbins High School students is to show them that there are careers in allied health professions and other STEM professions and make it real for them,” said Linda Nunes, vice chair of inclusion, diversity and equity for the Department of Radiology at Penn Med.

The mobile unit, a 54-foot-long Siemens Healthineers  model featuring the company’s MAMMOMAT Revelation digital mammography system and accredited by the American College of Radiology, will be used to screen women through Oct. 29.

Though 2D screenings were the conventional technology many years ago, Allbright said, 3D technology for breast cancer screenings came to market around 2011 and is now considered the gold standard.

“It is the best screening technology out there,” said Albright, “and it’s able to see the breast from many different angles and directions and really can detect very, very early cancers.”

Staff of Penn Medicine’s mobile mammography unit demonstrate how patients receive a mammogram on Oct. 22, 2021 in Philadelphia. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Dr. Carmen E. Guerra is an associate professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and a health equity researcher who studies cancer-screening disparities in Black and immigrant communities. She said the COVID-19 pandemic has had far-reaching consequences on medical screening rates in communities of color. And the numbers have been especially stark for cancer-screening rates, which Guerra said dropped by 90% for colon and breast cancer at the height of the pandemic.

In December 2020, Prevent Cancer Foundation, in collaboration with Omnibus, conducted a survey in which 1,200 Black, Hispanic, Asian, and Native American people were asked questions about their reasons for missed cancer screenings and medical appointments during the pandemic. The survey found that communities of color, across age and ethnicity, were more likely to have missed appointments during the pandemic than white Americans, with Black and Hispanic Americans about 40% more likely to have missed, postponed, or canceled a health appointment.

Charles Reyes is the community school coordinator for the Mayor’s Office of Children & Families at Dobbins High School. He said the mobile breast screening unit in his North Philadelphia neighborhood is a welcome source of relief after the devastation that the pandemic has brought.

“Knowing that women have been putting their mammograms off for the last two years and then to bring a resource like this in the community is unbelievable,” said Reyes. “You can’t get any better than that.”

Penn Medicine’s breast screening effort will continue weekdays through Friday, Oct. 29, from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Registration is encouraged, but walk-ups are welcome. To register for a mammogram, please call 267-414-2205.

A mobile mammogram truck is offering free screenings to women in North Philly