KINGMAN - Early detection is critical for a patient fighting breast cancer, since patients starting the fight after symptoms are present are often fighting cancer that has already spread beyond the breast.
Catching it during a screening when it's still confined to the breast is ideal and makes treatment more manageable.
This does require women to be screened on an annual basis, and there are barriers that come with that. In Mohave County, one of the larger hurdles to overcome is the county's high uninsured and underinsured population.
A mammogram screening out of pocket can cost upward of $150, and many women who require that yearly screening either can't afford it or can't pay the deductible set by insurance companies.
Kingman Regional Medical Center over the past eight years has stepped up to address that need with the Catch it Early program: If you are a woman over the age of 40 in Mohave County and your insurance doesn't cover the full cost of a mammogram, the program will pay for it. There are no out-of-pocket costs for the patient.
Teri Williams heads the program, and for her it's a very personal fight.
"My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer 20 years ago. It was a miracle at the time that they found it," said Williams. They found the cancer early on, and her mother was able to get it treated without getting chemotherapy and "never missed a day of work." She went on to live a full and wonderful life.
Williams also developed breast cancer, and thanks to her yearly screening they found it early. She also had minimal treatment and was able to keep working and living life like normal.
Over the eight years the Catch It Early program has existed, the program has continued to evolve. The hospital was able to hire Dr. Christopher Johansen in 2008. Johansen is a breast imaging specialist and now works with a team of six Mayo-trained radiologists to help screen women.
According to Williams, Johnson is "one of the best, if not the best" breast imaging specialists in the country.
The program started offering 3D mammograms in 2011, which provides a series of layered images of the breast versus a top-down image from traditional mammography. The Journal of the American Medical Association published a study in 2014 stating that, thanks to 3D mammography, doctors and patients saw a 41 percent increase in detection of invasive breast cancers and a 15 percent drop in recalls for additional imaging.
Williams and her team also provide a breast health navigator service, which acts as a liaison between the patient and their care. Patients are assigned a navigator, who will guide them throughout he process of mammography and, if needed, further diagnostics and treatment.
Between April 1 and Sept. 30 of this year, 166 women were screened under the program and 16 breast cancers have been detected. Williams and her team are able to keep the program going year-round with funding from the Well Woman HealthCheck Program in Arizona, a grant from the Susan G. Komen foundation, and from fundraisers in the month of October.
Even when the month of October is over, if you need to schedule a mammogram and your insurance won't cover the full cost, contact the Catch it Early program at (928) 692-2727.