WSU Study Examines Rural Breast CancerBy Rachel Webber
Murrow News Service
Rural, sparsely populated Ferry County has no local mammography facilities - but it does have eastern Washington's highest mortality rate from breast cancer, according to recent state data.
Now, backed by a small grant and Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center's mobile mammography coach, nursing instructors and students at Washington State University are trying to determine why the county's cancer morbidity rate is so high.
"It is probably high because they don't have access to early screening and diagnoses, and have less health care," said Christina Riebe, a Washington State University nursing instructor who received a $22,000 grant from Susan G. Komen for the Cure. "Then they are also so remote they may not be able to follow through on a problem or issue."
The grant will fund research and bring health fairs to women in Okanogan and Ferry counties. The project focuses on serving women 40 and older, although no woman will be turned down, Riebe said.
About half of Ferry County women weren't being screened for breast cancer, roughly two times the state average, according to research by project volunteer and recent WSU nursing graduate Aaron McCarty. McCarty said many women in the counties lack health insurance, or transportation to medical centers that offer mammograms. For example, women in Republic must drive about 70 minutes to the hospital in Colville.
Many of the women "are just trying to survive and meet their basic need in some of the more rural areas, like heat, food and shelter," Reibe said.
Ferry County is the least healthy county in Washington, according to a 2010 study by the University of Wisconsin and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The county's breast cancer mortality rate from 2000 to 2005 was nearly double the statewide rate, according to a 2009 community profile released by the Eastern Washington Affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure.
The WSU group coordinated part of the project with the Spokane's Providence Sacred Heart mammography coach, which can serve about 25 to 35 people during the two days it sets up mobile mammography, according to Mani Tanthantourath, who schedules the coach. Because of weather and road conditions, the coach can only travel to Ferry County about 16 days a year, Riebe said.
Education is a key part of the project. Student volunteers have hung fliers to publicize screenings and health fairs.
"A lot of these people don't come to town except maybe once a month and get their mail, and do their laundry, and go grocery shopping," Riebe said.
Riebe said some residents were wary of the project.
"They are right. We come in there, we do these projects, and then what?" Riebe said. "What we are trying to figure out is how we can sustain and support these women with ongoing care."
In the next year, Riebe said she hopes to find ways to continue outreach to the women with plans to conduct one or two community assessments with the women and to host a health fair next fall. Riebe recently received a six-month extension on the one-year grant to continue working with the women until September 2011.
The Murrow News Service provides local, regional and statewide stories reported and written by journalism students at the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University.