SIOUX FALLS, S.D. -- Breast cancer screenings dropped nationwide by almost 90% in April 2020, but officials with Sanford Health’s traveling mammography program say there’s no excuse to miss a screening this year.

The health care provider has offered mobile mammograms for over 30 years, driving to any and all of the organization’s 382 hospitals and clinics, as well as area businesses, churches and schools in the Dakotas, Minnesota and Iowa.

In 2020, the dramatic onset of the pandemic in the United States forced the program to take a six-week pause.

“We were concerned about people not wanting to come in because of COVID-19,” said Lori Moelter, radiology manager at Edith Sanford Breast Center in Sioux Falls. “The mobile has helped get people in for screenings.”

Between three trucks based in Sioux Falls and Fargo, Sanford performed nearly 9,500 mammograms in 2020. The program is on pace to outperform last year’s numbers, providing over 7,600 screenings so far.

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Sanford also operates a mobile mammography truck in the Bemidji, Minnesota, region, but statistics for the number of screenings conducted were not immediately available.

"When you have an appointment a year in advance, it makes it as easy and convenient as possible ... It kind of gives the women no excuse to get it done."

- Lori Moelter, radiology manager at Edith Sanford Breast Center in Sioux Falls

Sanford has offered mobile mammograms since 1986, when technicians would wheel a film-based machine into a hospital or clinic. In 2010, the provider transitioned to digital machines that could be operated in a truck. Since 2015, they upgraded to 3-D digital scans, giving doctors and technicians the best possible look at breast tissue.

“We’re basically bringing the clinic to (the patients), in the towns they live in,” Moelter said. “Women are comfortable. We’re a clinic on wheels.”

Moelter acknowledged that people are busy with their day-to-day lives, but doubled down on the importance of getting an annual screening.

“We want everyone to come in. It’s very important to be screened every year and not wait,” Moelter said. “If you wait or put off that screening, there could be that small cancer that we want to catch early.”

Whether in a mobile truck or a clinic for a mammogram, the process is the same. Radiologists and technicians conduct a scan of a patient’s breasts using short bursts of an x-ray, and examine the tissue for subtle changes that may indicate the presence of a tumor. The entire process only takes about 10 to 15 minutes.

“What’s quicker than getting a mammogram over your lunch break and not having to use a vacation day,” Moelter asked with a laugh.

Moelter added that the patient’s experience is just as comfortable as going into a real clinic.

“We’re out every day with our trucks, and (patients) can’t say enough good things,” Moelter said. “Our team has a lot of experience — and the equipment is the same as what we use at Edith Sanford Breast Center clinic.”

Constantly running the trucks from place to place can be busy, but the routine travel schedule allows a patient to set their next annual screening before they leave.

“When you have an appointment a year in advance, it makes it as easy and convenient as possible,” Moelter said. “It kind of gives the women no excuse to get it done.”

Just because October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, doesn’t mean that their services change — the mobile mammography program delivers patients the same quality of care and comfort no matter what the calendar reads.

“(In October) we’re just really emphasizing that patients come in and get that important screening,” Moelter doubled down. “Wherever you are, make sure you’re getting that screening done.”

Sanford’s travelling mammography program currently has over 130 mobile mammogram events scheduled through the end of the year. A full list of dates and locations can be found on the Sanford website.

All Sanford staff are currently masked and conduct additional cleaning on all equipment and surfaces. All employees are also required to receive a full dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, with limited exceptions.

The Cleveland Clinic, along with many other health organizations, say monthly breast self-exams can help detect changes that may be signs of infection or breast cancer — such as breast lumps or spots that feel different. When breast cancer is detected early, the chances for survival are much better.