High levels of Breast Cancer in SWVA leads to crowdfunding for mobile screening unit

BLACKSBURG, Va. (WDBJ7) Researchers at Virginia Tech are trying combat high levels of breast cancer in the SWVA region.

To put it into numbers, there are 100 cases of breast cancer diagnosed every week in Virginia. In Southwest Virginia, it's about 100 every year. That may sound low, but it's in fact very high considering how healthy the region is.

The biggest problem in Southwest Virginia, researchers say, is women are not getting screened regularly for cancer.

Tina Savla is an Associate Professor in Human Development at Virginia Tech who also works in the Center for Gerontology.

She explained, "A lot of people are working, they have multiple jobs many times, they don't have time to make an appointment to go to the doctor's office."

The other issue is medical facilities are too far away in rural communities. That may explain why Montgomery County's early detection rate is 44% below the national average.

According to a report compiled by Virginia Tech researchers and Susan G. Komen Virginia Blue Ridge, nearly half the new breast cancer cases in Montgomery County aren’t diagnosed until they reach late-stage development.

Carla Finkielstein is an associate professor in Virginia Tech’s College of Science, fellow at the Biocomplexity Institute of Virginia Tech and Fralin Life Science Institute, and Komen Virginia Blue Ridge board member.

She said, "If you get a screen, 99% of the cases of breast cancer is cured, as long as it's confined within the breast. So it's a no brainer."

Savla added, "Later detection makes it harder for medications to work. It also affects their life in many ways. Their responsibilities, now they have to keep juggling one other thing in their life."

Trying to save lives, these researchers are launching a crowdfunding campaign to rent UVA's mobile mammography unit to Montgomery County, Pulaski County, Radford City, Floyd County, and Wythe County.

"Based on our surveys, they show a tremendous need for access for this type of technology, and those are the ones that we want to target first," Finkielstein explained.

Virginia Tech will work with Susan G. Komen Blue Ridge to advertise the screenings that are just as good as ones done in hospitals.

“By sending a mobile mammogram unit directly into these communities, we can overcome one of the biggest obstacles these women face in maintaining their long-term health,” said Elizabeth Hand, mission coordinator for Komen Virginia Blue Ridge. “We’re proud to be partnering with the Virginia Tech community because they so clearly believe in this cause.”

Finkielstein said, "We can just simply move the unit, move the technicians with the unit, and park it right in a big lot and screen as many women as we can actually pay for."

The crowdfunding goal is $10,000, which was selected based on how long they can keep the unit and how many tests they can do. The campaign goes until November 17.

To donate to the crowdfunding and learn more, click here.

While Virginia Tech hopes to get the unit all around our region some day, phase two will, in fact, be following up with women who get tested, if they have breast cancer.

“We want to reduce breast cancer deaths 50 percent by 2026,” said Finkielstein. “We can’t meet that goal without ensuring everyone has access to basic screening services.”

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